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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
Australia's language barrier
Sydney skyline
Sydney is expecting 220,000 Chinese visitors this year

Australia's decision three weeks ago to axe government funding for Asian language teaching in schools has come as a blow to Sydney's growing tourist guide sector, which has been suffering from an acute shortage of Mandarin speakers.

While the city may be beautiful in anyone's language - describing it to the 220,000 Chinese visitors expected this year is proving a bit of a struggle.


At the moment there just aren't the resources in Australia to cope

Organisations like the Australian Tourist Commission see the crunch coming sooner rather than later, as East Asia director Richard Beere explains:

"If you take the Chinese New Year, which is January-February period - that's our biggest peak of the year from all of Asia.

"At the moment we are shaky, we are just coping. If you take the 2010 projection we'll have that many visitors every month from China.

"So we've got 10 years to build up to meet the requirement month on month. At the moment we can make the peak, but we're pushing."

Unique position

Part of the reason behind this peak is Australia's "Approved Destination Status".

China's travel boom
By 2020 100m Chinese will travel abroad each year
Expected to be the 4th biggest source of travellers within two decades
49% of Chinese travellers are tourists, 51% are on business

Of the 19 countries allowed to promote group travel directly in China, Australia and New Zealand are the only Western nations.

In the two and a half years since ADS was granted, arrivals from China have almost doubled. But the number of tour guides has not.

That is due, in part, to the Australian Government's immigration policy, which does not allow overseas tour guides to qualify for long-stay business visas.

By 2020, 100 million Chinese people a year will travel overseas. Growth in the Australian market alone is forecast at 20% per annum.

Insufficient resources

But there is a downside to attracting business from this vast yet immature market - inexperienced travellers who often require intensive assistance.

And at the moment there just aren't the resources in Australia to cope.

Australian Cultural and Business Tours brings in 1,000 tourists a month, but director and former tour guide Sandra Taylor routinely has to turn away business.

"We will turn some business back during high season. We'll just say 'no more, that's it.' Or we have to be very, very careful in selecting our partners. Perhaps we have to ask them to provide very experienced tour escorts from their end."

Later this year Qantas is due to launch "Australian Airlines" to link six Asian cities with Queensland. By 2012, 50% of all tourists to Australia are expected to come from Asia.

Unless it moves quickly to meet demand, Australia's normally vocal tourism industry could find itself tongue-tied.

See also:

03 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
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