By ED SOUTHORN
TWEED tourism is set to enter a new growth era, with the help of our new mates from China.
Latest figures reveal the number of Chinese tourists visiting Australia is growing by 16.5 per cent a year, with the Tweed emerging as a tourism hotspot.
Tourism NSW international marketing manager, Ian Cameron, said more than 250,000 Chinese tourists visited Australia over the past 12 months and within the next 10 years more than one million Chinese would visit Australia annually. And many of those were heading to the Tweed, he said.
"Tweed tourism is now on the launch pad. The region has come of age and is certainly ready to benefit from international tourism growth," Mr Cameron said.
Tweed and Coolangatta Tourism general manager Terry Watson said about 50,000 overseas tourists currently visited the Tweed each year, including a significant proportion of Chinese.
And with Tweed tourism accommodation capacity set to at least double over the next 10 years, the "sky is the limit" for the number of international visitors locally, he said.
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One of the latest indications of the increasing overseas tourism interest in the Tweed was yesterday's first ever group visit by Tourism NSW directors based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and London.
The regional directors, who met local tourism identities at Jimbos seafood restaurant next to the Boyds Bay Bridge, liaise with travel wholesalers, booking agents and the media in their own countries to promote destinations such as the Tweed.
Tourism NSW North Asia regional director Oton Wu, based in Hong Kong and responsible for tourism marketing in China and Korea, said China's emerging middle class saw Australia as a "modern country" with "exceptional natural attractions, clean air and delicious seafood".
Tourism NSW South Asia regional director Siew Hoon Tan, based in Singapore, whose markets include Malaysia and India, said well-travelled Asian tourists would soon be spending more time in the Tweed.
Mr Cameron said Virgin Blue's new route from Sydney to Ballina would also help drive Tweed tourism growth, encouraging overseas and domestic visitors to explore north from Byron.
As well, Mr Watson said European and north American travellers were now more interested in "getting away from the main cities".