China has become the top source of visitor arrivals for Australia, a historic shift which has led to calls for more to be done to "welcome" this fresh wave of travellers.
Chinese visitors - mainly tourists and global students - overtook those from New Zealand, which had long held the top spot. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows trends indicating visitors from China exceeded those from New Zealand as of May. About 1.31 million Chinese visitors arrived in the year to August, up 11.2 per cent from the previous year.
Officials expect this number to triple in less than 10 years, with Tourism Australia, the federal government's tourism agency, forecasting the number will hit 3.3 million per year by 2026. Chinese visitors spend about A$8,000 (S$8,350) each per trip - compared with A$5,000 by international visitors overall - and account for about a quarter of the nation's tourism intake, according to the agency.
The boom is bringing in about A$10 billion a year and has been helping to ease the impact from the end of a decade-long mining expansion. But there are questions about whether the country is adequately equipped to deal with the surge.
A recent report by an international management consulting firm, L.E.K. Consulting, concluded that Australia needs to boost the learning of Mandarin, provide more Chinese-language signage, improve its airports and ensure its visa processes are quick and easy.
"Investment must go towards ensuring that Chinese visitors to Australia have not just a positive experience, but an excellent one," the report said.
"A frequent lack of signage and customer service in Chinese suggests a need for more education in the language for Australians not of a Chinese background."
Estimated number of Chinese tourists expected to visit Australia annually by 2026, up from a million last year .
The report found that, as of 2014, 53 per cent of Chinese visitors were tourists, 20 per cent were visiting friends and relatives, 13 per cent were students, 9 per cent were on business trips, and the rest were coming for jobs or other reasons.
"Provided that Australia is able to maintain or even increase its attraction to Chinese visitors, it is then necessary to more fully harness the opportunities for broader economic engagement that this opens the door to," the report said.
Experts have urged the Australian authorities and businesses to ensure an adequate supply of hotel rooms and to enable Chinese payment options such as Alipay.
A leisure studies expert, Associate Professor Kirsten Holmes of Curtin University, said the booming international student sector was helping to boost tourist numbers from China. She said Chinese visitors were attracted by Australia's reputation as a "safe destination" filled with unique nature and wildlife, and high-quality food.
"A lot of these tourists are friends or family of international students - people coming over for graduation ceremonies or because children, relatives or friends have become familiar with Australia and have encouraged them to visit," she told The Straits Times.
The managing director of Tourism Australia, Mr John O'Sullivan, said the tourism sector needed to continue to develop its "China readiness". This included measures such as hotels employing Mandarin-speaking front desk staff or offering Chinese TV channels or newspapers, or restaurants providing Chinese food options or translated menus, he said.
"Being able to make mobile payments is a big thing for Chinese tourists," he said. "The two key players in the market, WeChat pay and Alipay, are both present in Australia and building their footprints. The opportunities for future expansion are enormous."
Mr O'Sullivan added: "Many of these measures seem pretty simple, but they are also highly symbolic gestures that say 'welcome'."