Kevin Rudd has called on Qantas to boost direct flights to China while also urging Australian tourism operators to hire more employees who can speak Mandarin.
At a Queensland Tourism Industry Council lunch in Brisbane today, the former Australian prime minister spoke about ways to tap into the growing Chinese travel market
Asked by ABC moderator Jessica van Vonderen whether he could have a post-politics future in tourism, Mr Rudd said: “You mean as an exhibit?”
He added: “Stuffed, over there [at the] Queensland Museum: tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus, Rudd.”
Earlier, Mr Rudd said his strongest possible recommendation for Qantas was to expand its services to increase direct flights between Australia and China.
He said it was easier to fly direct between Beijing and Sydney in 1984 than it was now, with flights currently diverted through Shanghai.
While other providers were increasing flight capacity between the two nations, Qantas needed to do more, he said.
Mr Rudd said the expanding Chinese market was surely big enough for Australia’s national airline to have a growth strategy.
“I understand that Qantas like all global airlines must be competitive ... but at the same time Qantas must have an aggressive global growth strategy with China at its centre,” he said.
Mr Rudd said China was Australia’s third largest visitor market after New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The Australian domestic tourism market must package products to suit first-time Chinese travellers, with visitors later becoming powerful advocates for a trip down under via “word of mouth”.
“And finally: language. Language, language, language. I’ve been preaching this message for the last 18 years. I feel like a cracked record,” Mr Rudd said.
Australian tourism operators were urged to look to hire more Chinese speakers to ensure travellers had a pleasant experience.
Mr Rudd said tourist guides and hotel front-desk staff should have Chinese language skills, insisting gains could be made given Australia had close to one million ethnic Chinese residents.
“It is in the industry’s interest to recruit, train and sustain people long-term in their industry,” he said, arguing a friendly Chinese speaker at a hotel could ensure visitors had a hassle-free trip.
There was an awkward moment at one stage when an audience member rose to ask a question and introduced himself as working for state government body Tourism Queensland.
“Still got a job?” Mr Rudd responded, prompting audience laughter, before the former prime minister added: “That is a fair question.”
After the event, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said he agreed that the industry should do more to engage with Chinese residents of Australia.
“They have the potential to be our very best advocates overseas but also to help us to provide the services to the Chinese visitors,” he said.
Mr Gschwind said skilled worker visa provisions should be changes to allow operators to hire overseas workers with specialised language skills.
“We have gaps that we cannot fill locally so we need to bring in at least temporarily some Chinese speakers and possibly from other language gaps as well,” he said.
Mr Gschwind said he certainly wanted to see more direct flights from China into Australia and particularly into Queensland.
Comment is being sought from Qantas.