Chinese tourists venture off the beaten track

Destinations outside Sydney and Melbourne are attracting a new breed of adventurous Chinese visitor willing to explore regional areas, the Choice Hotels franchise maintains.

The New York-listed Choice group covers 230 hotels in Australia with nearly 10,000 rooms under the Econo Lodge, Comfort Inn, Quality, Clarion and boutique Ascend brands.

Much of Choice’s mid-tier accommodation caters for regional or rural towns and has seen a significant rise in Asian visitors over the past two years, chief executive Trent Fraser said.

The group hopes to boost its overall appeal to the Chinese market, now the largest group of arrivals in Australia, by inking a global deal with China’s biggest online travel agency, Ctrip.

Mr Fraser said under the deal, the group would run marketing specials and Choice’s hotels would be listed on Ctrip’s website, available to be booked by anyone in mainland China.

“We’re pretty confident it’s going to deliver well for our properties,” he said.

Chinese visitors, which topped 1.17 million in September this year, have propelled a local tourism boom, now being felt beyond the country’s normal tourism haunts.

Mr Fraser said the strongest performing region in the group’s portfolio was New South Wales where RevPAR (revenue per available room) was up by 12 per cent.

Tasmania had seen similar year-on-year growth, while Choice’s Victorian hotels has seen RevPAR rise by 7 per cent, he said.

Western Australian and South Australia had stayed the same but Queensland had slumped on the back of a slowdown in the mining and resources sector.

“Our feeling is that has probably reached the bottom and about to improve,” Mr Fraser said.

Across all the group’s hotels RevPAR was up by 7.3 per cent year-on-year to October, he said.

The strength of the hotel sector has seen a majority of recent transactions occur in regional locations, agency CBRE’s latest Australian Hotels MarketView states.

Hotels national director Wayne Bunz said more than $600 million in hotels had transacted between July and September, with all but $50 million having been acquired by Asian buyers.

The majority of deals were in regional locations, including the sale of the Novotel Oasis in Cairns – it sold to Shakespeare Property Group for $48 million – and the Rydges Esplanade Cairns, which went to Mulpha Group for $40 million.

Mr Fraser said Choice had initiated a “China ready” program to raise franchisees awareness of cultural differences and expectations.

Choice was noticing more second-time travellers from China who, after the first visit in a guided tour, had then returned with family members prepared to explore off the well-beaten tourist trail, he said.

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