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4 Apr, 2013

Melbourne Airport bids to be Australia’s gateway for huge Chinese market

By Xu Yanyan, Song Dan

MELBOURNE, April 3 (Xinhua)– The continuous influx of tourists and goods from China during the last couple of years has prompted Australian authorities to develop its aviation industry and transport infrastructure to meet the booming demand.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Chris Woodruff, chief executive officer of Melbourne Airport, said they are getting ready to make the city’s main airport to be the Australian gateway for the fast-growing and huge Chinese market.

Located in Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne Airport has seen exponential passenger growth since it opened in 1970. Last year, more than 29 million people passed through the airport, including 7 million international passengers.

Official statistics show that arrival of Chinese nationals, tourists and businessmen, at the Melbourne Airport grew by 20 percent annually during the past several years.

“We are taking the China market seriously. In fact, China has now overtaken the United Kingdom as our second most important country of origin for visitors, after New Zealand. Obviously China will be Australia’s fastest-growing market in the next decade, so we are preparing ourselves to be the Australian gateway for all Chinese airlines flying to or from China,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff, who was preparing for his next trip to China, said that the whole relationship between China and Australia, not only in trade but in culture and education, is developing very fast.

According to Woodruff, Australia has natural resources that China needs for development while Australia imports a lot of goods from China. “So it’s quite important that we are connected directly by air, ” Woodruff said, adding that he is extremely optimistic about the growth potentials in the travel industry because both countries are investing a lot of time, effort and energy in this relationship.

In order to attract more Chinese tourists and help them find their way in the terminal, the Melbourne Airport now have signs and announcements in Mandarin while the staff are trained to better understand the needs of Chinese visitors.

In an interview with Xinhua, some Chinese tourists have positive feedback on the dual language service. “This is my first time to travel abroad, it’s nice to see the Chinese signs here since my relatives and I can only speak Mandarin,” said Hu Min, who came from China’s Hunan province.

Australian Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said in February at the Asia Pacific Aviation/Aerospace Leaders Summit that airports in Australia need at least 13 billion A.U. dollars (13.41 billion U.S. dollars) over the next decade to cope with increased demand from airlines and to reduce congestion.

Aside from being Australia’s capital of art, culture and fashion, Melbourne is also the home to some major world sporting events, including the Australian Formula One Grand Prix and the Australian grand slam tennis and Melbourne Cup Carnival.

Woodruff said that with all these international events plus the natural beauty of the city, it is not difficult to attract more foreign tourists to the city.

“You can see the city has so many world-class events, and it was voted the most livable city of the world. Secondly, the city has many natural delights around it, like the Great Ocean Road and the Philip Island, which are just two or three hours drive from the city,”Woodruff said.

Woodruff said that another important aspect of the Melbourne airport is that it operates 24 hours a day and the passengers can arrive and depart throughout the day and night which is not true in other Australian airports.

Woodruff said that in its bid to capture the big market of China’s southern belly, the Melbourne Airport has established a ” sister airport” relationship with Chengdu Shuanglliu International Airport in 2012.

“Chengdu is a city of 13 million people and its surrounding population is more than 50 million, that’s twice size as Australia. Sichuan province is the focal point of China’s five-year plan. This region is going to be very important. That’s why Australia, especially Melbourne, has to connect directly with Sichuan in the next couple of years,” Woodruff said.

He said that in the”sister airport”agreement, the two airports will share technical, marketing and commercial information and establish staff or personnel exchanges.

Woodruff believed a health relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. “We hope to see that growth rate of Australians visiting China match with the growth rate of Chinese visiting Australia,” he said.

According to Albanese, the aviation links between China and Australia is developing very fast, now with 82 weekly flights between the two countries.

Woodruff advised Chinese airlines to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Melbourne Airport.

“China is the home to many great airlines but we only have four Chinese airlines flying to Melbourne right now. We will continually promote the Melbourne Airport to airlines in China. When they are ready to come, we would welcome them with open arms,” he said.