THE Hunter remains a drawcard for travellers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States and within Australia, rather than the booming Chinese tourism market that has hit Sydney with force, new figures show.
But that should be about to change, the region’s tourism boss says, and we should smarten up our act to prepare, particularly ahead of the planned expansion of Newcastle Airport opening the market to south-east Asia.
Figures released by Destination NSW show a 20per cent fall in the amount of money international travellers staying overnight in the Hunter spent in the year to September.
The drop, of about $35million in a year, is being blamed on the high Australian dollar and was despite the number of international tourists staying overnight growing slightly – to 115,000 or a 3.9per cent share of the NSW market.
The region’s performance was stronger on the home front, with a 6.1per cent increase in domestic overnight travellers.
The growth was above the statewide rate of 5.4per cent, but the number of domestic overnight visitors to the Hunter was only slightly higher than levels in 2001.
Overall, tourist spending in the region in 2013 totalled $1.4billion, down $110million from 2012.
The government declared this week that the state was experiencing a ‘‘Chinese tourism boom’’, with an 18per cent increase in the number of tourists from mainland China visiting NSW.
However, the figures suggest Chinese tourists are squarely focused on Sydney and few are venturing to the Hunter and other regional areas of the state.
China did not rank among the top five sources of international tourists visiting the region.
Will Creedon, chairman of the Hunter Visitor Economy, formerly Tourism Hunter, said he was confident the number of tourists from China and other Asian countries would increase in the next few years as they made repeat visits and ventured further afield.
To capitalise, the region needed to prepare by developing a greater awareness of other customs and cultures, and boosting translation services and tourist information available in other languages.
‘‘Tourism in the Hunter has long been synonymous with Europe and America,’’ he said.
‘‘However the world is shifting and we should ensure we shift with it.’’
Hunter Visitor Economy, formed earlier this year, involves the region’s 11 councils and aims to co-ordinate tourism strategies and spending between local government areas that should give the entire region a competitive advantage in attracting visitors and government funding.
Mr Creedon said the organisation would focus its efforts this year on improving the quality of digital information about the region, and targeting events, festivals and business tourism.
Hot air ballooning over Cessnock’s wine country.