new tourism narrative needed to attract high rollers

Casino boss pleads for a new image for Australia

John O’Neill, CEO of Australian casino giant Star Entertainment, is worried about visitor numbers in Brisbane, eastern Australia. According to media reports, the gambling operator suggested a reorientation of the city’s tourism strategy at a business lunch yesterday. In future, the focus should be placed more on Brisbane as an exceptionally safe and clean place to attract solvent customers.

Australia and its casino industry suffer from the persistent absence of Chinese tourists. In addition, residents of the Middle Kingdom are still subject to strict covid regulations that make pleasure travel almost impossible.

Casino operator wants new “storyline”

As the Brisbane Times reports, Star Entertainment boss O’Neill has spoken out in favor of giving the city and the entire country a new image.

Instead of focusing on “beaches, food, and wine”, it is time to install a new tourism narrative.

According to the gambling entrepreneur, it would be advisable to put Australia’s overall cleanliness and safety at the center of efforts to attract overseas travelers in the future:

The borders will be open [and] this is a great place to visit. You won’t get mugged walking the streets of Brisbane, it’s safe and secure. It’s such a good story, and we just have to try and tell it.

One of the reasons for the noisy thinking about new tourism strategies is the loss of high-paying visitors from China. According to the Brisbane Times, Star chief O’Neill had described their absence as “worrying for all those who rely on inbound tourists”.

China is the most important tourism partner of Australia to date

China was considered Australia’s top tourism market in 2019, with 1.4 million visitors. In that year, travelers from the Middle Kingdom were said to have contributed around €11 billion to the country’s economy, according to the Australian Department of Trade, Tourism and Investment. Australian casinos have also long benefited from the flow of money from Chinese high rollers.

While countries like Australia are reopening their borders to international travelers, China sticks to its zero-tolerance policy. Air travel, for example, is still heavily restricted. In addition, those returning from abroad have to go into hotel quarantine for weeks.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Chinese travellers spent about EUR 182 billion and EUR 169 billion abroad worldwide in the pre-Corona years of 2018 and 2019, respectively. This accounted for almost one-fifth of all international tourism spending.

With the onset of the virus, spending would have halved to the equivalent of around 86.6 billion in 2020. In the first nine months of last year, there had been a 61% drop compared to the same period in 2019.

Hope for the Future

Despite the loss of Chinese visitors, Star chief executive O’Neill said he was pleased with the performance of the Star Entertainment group, according to the Brisbane Times.

The company had proved resilient during the pandemic and was currently experiencing an unexpected upswing. The average expenditure per visitor in the Star casinos in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney has increased considerably.

It remains to be seen to what extent Australia will succeed in changing its image from a relaxed surfer’s paradise to a primarily clean destination where, according to O’Neill, “law and order” prevail.

However, it hardly seems surprising that the operator of three luxury casinos would instead welcome more solvent travellers with a high need for security than adventurous backpackers in the country after the Chinese high-rollers have left.