At a time when there seems to be enough hot air invective eminating between Australia and China to hoist one of his balloons aloft, Kiff Saunders' optimism about the return of Chinese tourists is impressive.
Twenty years since Australia reveled in the prestige of being among the first Western nations to receive "Approved Destination Status" from the Chinese government, the greatest multi-billion dollar success story in Australian inbound tourism is in tatters and so, too, largely, is Mr Saunders' Melbourne-based Global Ballooning business.
Before travelers from China were barred from coming to Australia by the federal government due to coronavirus, 50 per cent of Global Ballooning's customers were drawn from the People's Republic with Mr Saunders employing up to 42 staff, including Mandarin speakers.
The pandemic, as Felicia Mariani, chief executive of the Victorian Tourism Industry Council, puts it, marks the end of a golden era of Australian tourism and with it the nation's single biggest source of international tourists.
But Mr Saunders is sanguine about the eventual restoration of the Chinese market.
"A lot of this is political and white noise," he says. "China is still the best tourism market for Australia."
Though any speedy recovery of in-bound Chinese tourism, which makes up $12.4 billion of the $45.4 billion international travelers bring in to the country, does seem unlikely thanks to potentially damaging warnings by the Chinese regime about levels of racism and safety in Australia.
"Once international travel restrictions are lifted, we will be resuming campaign activities in China as we will in our other key markets," he says. "We need to get international visitors flowing into our tourism regions and supporting our tourism businesses."
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