Glenda Korporaal in the Australian: Red Lanterns Go Up As Industry Celebrates Growing Ties with China

On Monday night in Sydney ­National Australia Bank hosted a gala dinner at Darling Harbour to celebrate Chinese New Year. About 800 people attended, including many small-business ­clients of NAB.

Last night in Sydney the Australia-China Business Council hosted its annual Chinese New Year dinner at The Eight Modern Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. Former federal trade minister Craig Emerson and former NSW minister for trade and investment Andrew Stoner were ­acknowledged for their work in promoting business between Australia and China. The events are among a growing list of events planned around the Australia-China theme to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which starts next week.

They are a reflection of the growing Australian business ties with China, the increasing importance of the Chinese tourist market here and a recognition of the importance of the potential business with the growing ethnic Chinese business community in Australia.

One attendee at the NAB dinner told the Martine Letts, the national chief executive of the Australia-China Business Council, that the event was one of 22 different functions he was attending to mark Chinese New Year this year, several on the same evening.

The red lanterns are already up in Melbourne’s Chinatown district, ahead of its official festival from February 16 to March 1 to mark the start of the Year of the Sheep. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is also putting on an “East Meets West” concert on February 28 with a combination of Chinese and western instruments.

In Sydney the city council is planning one of its biggest ever CNY festivals, which is expected to attract more than 600,000 visitors. The celebrations will include an exhibition of the Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors at Dawes Point, which opens on Friday, and a Twilight Parade of floats, lanterns, dancers, building projections, fireworks — and a giant merino sheep — on February 22.

Martine Letts says an increasing number of businesses are holding events to mark the occasion this year. She points out that only a small percentage of Australian companies currently do business with China, Australia’s largest trading partner, but argues that there are “enormous opportunities” ahead with the advent of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Chinese New Year (or the Spring Festival as the time is known in mainland China) marks the biggest single annual migration of people in the world. Millions of people in China brave overcrowded trains to make long trips back home to see their families for a brief few days before they join the same crowded trains to go back to their place of work again.

Around the world many other Chinese take the opportunity of the holiday period — the one time that most of the traditionally hardworking Chinese actually take a break — to travel the world.

Letts points out that some Australian companies are now spreading out their annual CNY celebrations throughout the month in recognition that many Chinese will be spending time with their families during the actual official holiday of February 19.

The Chinese tourist dollar is now an increasing important element in the Australian economy, even more so with the falling contribution from the mining industry. Hopefully the falling dollar can further stimulate the business.

Mainland China now represents the biggest single source of international tourism revenue for Australia. Around 800,000 Chinese visited here last year, a business worth $5.3 billion, up 16 per cent from 2013. Tourism Australia, which has launched a $10m marketing campaign in China, is hoping to see more than a million visitors from China by 2016-17, generating a potential business of about $13bn.

CNY is one of the peak travel times. One of the world’s largest airlines, China Southern Airlines, is putting on seven extra charter flights from China into Queensland between February 16 and 21 this year. A spokesman said yesterday that this would bring an extra 2000 Chinese visitors into Cairns and the Gold Coast.

China Southern is predicting that the period from April to October will see total scheduled flights rising to 45 a week to cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland. “Chinese travellers continue to enjoy Australia and their numbers are growing,” the spokesman said. “The recent bilateral discussions have opened up the airlines’ capacities to create an even greater potential for travel to and from China.”

China is now officially the world’s largest source of outbound travel, having overtaken the Germans with their long official holiday periods. In 2013, some 98 million Chinese travelled internationally, according to a CLSA report, overtaking the 94 million Germans who travelled outside their country during the year and 62 million from the US.

By 2020, CLSA is predicting that a staggering 200 million mainland Chinese will be travelling abroad compared with 98 million Germans and 71 million from the US. The business potential for those who can tap into this market are enormous — but so is the competition from around the world.

The CNY celebrations are a sign that the business potential is underwritten by strong people-to-people ties, which provide a more stable base for a long-term relationship.