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Tapping into the Australian Dragon

30 May 2022  By Contributor

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Within Australia, there is a hidden segment of high value travellers that is an immediate market for New Zealand’s tourism industry, writes China Travel Service’s Lisa Li. 

If you are not an Asian, you might find it difficult to tell the difference between Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. Within “Chinese” there is further distinctions between Mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries of residence. It is said there are 45 million Chinese living outside of China. Within our neighbour Australia, there is a population of 1.21 million Chinese. This represents a market opportunity that should be closely investigated. (2016 Census: see Graph 1) 

China Travel Service (CTS) was an industry pioneer to engage the Chinese diaspora in Australia. During the SARS period of 2003, CTS pivoted to domestic tourism when international travel paused. We launched the seat-in-coach with Chinese commentary tour called “Xi Yangyang” for the local ethnic Chinese community. We started with one departure per week with five days in South Island and quickly grew to multiple departures per week with seven different itinerary choices. Pre-Covid, over 30,000 customers joined Xi Yangyang holiday a year and more than half of them were from Australia. 

China Travel Service MD Lisa Li

We started to research the Australian Chinese market over 15 years ago. The common narrative is that Australia is our Number 1 visitor market and Tourism New Zealand, RTOs and operators all attach much importance of this market.  Our research finds that like other Australian visitors, the geographic proximity and frequent flights make Australian Chinese consider New Zealand as a priority destination and they are very “active considers”. Moreover, comparatively their potential spending is higher as they do not usually have the friends and families available in New Zealand to offer VFR support.

Our research further told us the spending power and travel budget of Chinese Australians is much higher than the average Australian. For those Chinese who reside in Australia, on average they are better educated, have more savings and allocate more budget for travelling. Since both TNZ and RTO attach so much importance to the Australian market and have invested heavily on marketing such as media campaigns, sales calls and roadshows both to the general public and the trade, you may take it for granted that this market has been well covered. 

The answer is NO. Our research and experience have clearly told us that Australian Chinese have their own preferred Chinese travel agents and their own preferred traditional media (Chinese newspapers, TV and radio) as well as emerging social media such as Weibo, Wechat etc. Obviously, these platforms are becoming more and more popular. Then you may not be surprised that pre-Covid, there were more than 200 travel agencies located just in Chinatown Sydney, servicing the regional population. 

We started a roadshow targeting the Chinese travel trade in Australia in the early 2010s. We have been so grateful for our industry peers who appreciated our understanding and insights of this market and supported our marketing efforts. I can still clearly remember David Kennedy and Jim Little at presentations in Melbourne to the local Chinese travel agents – they did not need interpreters at all.  The return was instant and significant. We started to invest more in this market with more frequent sales calls, agent famils and conducting joint media campaigns with local partners. 

Even though the China market has brought CTS huge opportunities and growth, diversification in other markets (including Australia, the US and South East Asia) is critical to financial health and sustainability, not to mention good sense. 

Graph 1: Australia’s Chinese population

In late Jan 2020, when Covid-19 broke out in China, our instant reaction was that we still have our Chinese diaspora markets. We called on the industry and the response was instant that we formalise a sales trip to Australia and a roadshow was planned in March to capture the Easter Holiday traffic. The trip was unfortunately not able to materialise. The same thing happened last year. We were invited by Christchurch airport Kia Ora South to join their sales trip to Australia and we were very excited that our very first Aussie Chinese tour group would arrive in Auckland on 1 July. Both of them were cancelled when the trans-Tasman bubble burst. 

We have been resilient over the last 28 months and we remain positive for the future. We could explore marketing opportunities on our own in the past, but now we are keen to work with others in New Zealand tourism to take advantage of this market.

The New Zealand travel industry is lucky that it is able to access the Australian ski sector as an important market. It is one that we understand as high value and one that communications can be targeted into. Over the next few months, there will be many tourism businesses in New Zealand that will be basing their recovery around this market segment. 

We should view Chinese Australians in a similar manner. There is a high propensity to travel and represents a traveller seeking regionally dispersion and is able to operate year-round. It is critical, however, that it is understood as a distinct sub-market and resources targets to its access. The niche travel industry and language communication tools of Chinese Australians should not be seen as a challenge, but as the simplest tool by which to access one of our nearest and most high value customer. 

Aotea Gifts’ Richard Hanson

Richard Hanson, director of Aotea Gifts agrees there is an opportunity in the market for New Zealand operators.

“After more than two years of border restrictions, Aotea Gifts has recently begun to see small number of sales to overseas travellers. While we know that Mainland China is closed, there will be a unique opportunity to understand more about those customers we would normally have deemed to be ‘Chinese’,” Hanson says.   

“The opportunity to deliver a New Zealand travel message to Chinese Australians is one that can result in immediate benefits to local businesses. 

“We are also aware that the Chinese Mainland travel sector is one that is likely to rapidly re-engage with travel when they are able to. In order to be ready for this in the future, New Zealand needs business that can keep their Chinese capabilities operating. Chinese travellers from Australia and other non-Mainland nations will allow businesses to slowly rebuild their international staffing and capabilities so that they can be ready for opportunities as they evolve.”  

To learn more about this valuable market and how to tap into it to help grow your tourism business, contact and view CTS’ experience and services at

About CTS and Lisa Li 

Lisa was born in northwest China’s Qinghai Province and grew up in Xian where she obtained a BA in 1992 from Shaanxi Normal University and commenced her career with China Travel Service. She moved to New Zealand in 1998 and attended University of Auckland, where she gained her Master of International Business.

Lisa Li was headhunted to open the New Zealand overseas branch of China Tourism Group in 2000 to handle ground arrangements for Chinese tourists, shortly after New Zealand was awarded ADS status, as well as inbound business delegations.

The company has grown to become one of the premier DMC for inbound Asian visitors. Lisa had been a board member of Tourism Export Council for two terms. She is active in Auckland’s business and Chinese community, serving as Secretary General of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand (CCCNZ) for the past 20 years responsible for raising over $200,000 for charities. Lisa also sits on the Advisory Board of New Zealand Asian Leaders, Super Diversity Institute, as well as the Advisory Board of Manukau Police.

Lisa was recognised by China National Tourism Administration (Australia & New Zealand) for an “Outstanding Contribution Promoting Tourism Exchange Between New Zealand and China”. And CTS was recognised at the most recent HSBC-NZCTA China Business Awards held biannually with the Auckland Airport Award for Contribution to the growth of Chinese Tourism in New Zealand. She was also a finalist for the TIA Tourism Champion Award for three successive years.

Lisa joined the Institute of Directors as a member and has been awarded the certificate in Company Direction on completion of the requisite course conducted by the Institute of Directors in New Zealand.

Lisa Li
Managing Director
China Travel Service New Zealand

CTS Aotearoa – we know New Zealand best 

CTS New Zealand is a trusted travel company with an experienced team that adheres to the nation’s Māori principles of Mannakitanga, Kaitiakitanga and Whanaungatanga as our commitment to Tiaki Promise for sustainable tourism.  We want to rebuild travel in a better way in the post-pandemic world by venturing beyond the main tourist hubs to experience Aotearoa’s Māori culture and scenic attractions for a more meaningful adventure.

We help clients create personalized itineraries with our in-depth firsthand knowledge and industry connections developed over the past 20+ years to deliver a rich adventure that makes travel matter for inbound business and leisure travelers. Our growth has led to recognition as one of the premiere destination management companies valued by discerning Asian visitors.  

CTSNZ offers trust as a bonded member of Travel Agents Association in New Zealand (TAANZ); International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tourism Export Council New Zealand (TECNZ), Auckland Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of China Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand to maintain a very high level of service standards and financial integrity. Qualmark (Covid Clean) certification offers additional assurance of our commitment to quality and value; along with our membership of Forté Global Network Business Solutions as the New Zealand representative.

Aotea Gifts

Aotea Gifts is a tourism-focused retail business that has served the needs of travellers since 1979.

Richard Hanson
Aotea Gifts


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