Chinese brave the surf for selfies

(Australian Associated Press)

Chinese tourists are heading to Gold Coast beaches to overcome a fear of the waves in their efforts to capture a quintessential Aussie selfie.

Chinese university students and young families are leading the charge of learning to surf.

Sarah Gardiner, a senior lecturer at the Griffith Institute for Tourism at Griffith University, has created a program, with a local tourism operator, to help Chinese tourists build the confidence required to swim in the surf and ride the waves.

“For Australians, splashing in the water is something we’ve done since we were kids. For Chinese visitors, however, it is something unique and can be very daunting,” says Dr Gardiner.

She says they want to experience the surf and have a quintessential Gold Coast holiday.

“From a tourism perspective, being able to get an amazing photo of (themselves) riding a wave on a surfboard that they can share with their friends in China is by far the most sought-after Australian experience,” she says.

“It even tops a photo with a koala.”

Dr Gardiner worked with Get Wet Surf School on the Gold Coast to help combat fears about the water for the Chinese youth and student market and it is boosting business.

Company owner Kerri Jekyll says in the past four years Get Wet Surf School has increased business revenue and won an Innovation in Tourism award from the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.

Their surf lessons for Chinese clients differ from others because they focus heavily on educating them about rips, waves and tides before going into the surf, she says.

“We make it as easy as possible for them to be able to experience the activity. They want to know how it feels to be on a surfboard and ride a wave,” she says.

“Because Chinese people don’t have access to water sports growing up, their water skills are not very strong, so they think surfing is unachievable. At first they are extremely apprehensive but quickly become excited and feel a great sense of self-accomplishment,” she says.

Due to her collaboration with Dr Gardiner, Mrs Jekyll was invited to share her insights with other tourism operations at Queensland’s first ever Connecting to Asia Forum in Cairns in 2016.

“Innovation and collaboration are essential for survival in this industry,” Mrs Jekyll says.

“We were always told that Asians don’t get wet, but in the past four years that has changed. We’ve lifted our Chinese market from one per cent to 30 per cent.”

World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) data confirms that China is the world’s leading outbound market, with 135 million departures in 2016, spending US$261 billion – a market that’s estimated to grow and impact tourism destinations dramatically.

In the last year 20 per cent of our online bookings came directly from Greater China,” Mrs Jekyll says.

“The opportunity to be photographed surfing, now takes pride of place as the ultimate tourism experience.”

As for the clientele braving the water for the ultimate selfie, Mrs Jekyll says most are international university students.

But collaboration with Asian travel agents has seen the surf school attract “lots of families” including children as young as eight, right through to adults in their mid-forties.

Get Wet caters to all levels of comfort starting with an introduction to water up to more challenging surfing and body boarding lessons.

Tourism Research Australia’s International Visitors Survey for the 12 months to September 2017 shows China has overtaken New Zealand as the largest source of international visitors to the Gold Coast and is about to do the same for Australia. A record 305,000 Chinese visited the city in that time. A total of 1.339 million Chinese visited Australia along with 1.357m New Zealanders.

The Gold Coast was the only Western destination to make the global top 10 list of preferred Chinese tourism destinations in a 2017 survey by travel services provider Ctrip.

AAP, in collaboration with the City of Gold Coast and Gold Coast Tourism, is publishing a range of newsworthy content in the lead-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.


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