Year of the Snake stirs desire to head for the sun

ABOUT 80,000 guests are expected to jet in to Australia to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Snake in what is set to be the biggest influx of overseas visitors for Chinese New Year.

Extra flights between China and Australia have been added to meet the demand, with visitor numbers expected to be up 200 per cent from a decade ago, when just 26,200 international guests arrived for the event.

''It's a huge festival that's growing, and it's great for tourism and great for travel,'' said the chief executive of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy. ''Sydney and Melbourne already have massive Chinese New Years off the back of [local] Chinese communities and their friends and relatives who come out for it, but now the other states and territories are all capitalising, too.''

The chief executive of Tourism North Queensland, Rob Giason, expected up to 20,000 Chinese travellers to arrive in Cairns during the two-week Chinese New Year holiday.

In Sydney, where the Chinese New Year festival runs from February 8 to 24 and spans 80 events, organisers are predicting bigger crowd numbers than in previous years.

''We had a 22 per cent increase in crowds to our Chinese New Year launch and markets last year, and every year we do it gets even bigger,'' said Gill Minervini, of City of Sydney council.

''We're actually outgrowing a lot of our venues so watch this space, because we're going to have to move house, I think.''

Ms Minervini attributes the growth of the festival in Sydney to the council's decision to encourage other Asian cultures, beyond Chinese people to participate in the celebrations for what is also known as Lunar New Year.

''For the past three years we've really started to embrace other cultures who celebrate the Lunar New Year, including Korean and Vietnamese, and that's certainly a direction for the future,'' she said.

The China Southern airline has scheduled extra services between Guangzhou and Cairns between January 29 and March 1 and seven planes have been chartered by Chinese tour operators between Guangzhou and Cairns to cater for increased demand.

Henry He, China Southern's general manager for Australia and New Zealand, said: ''Just as Aussies like to get away somewhere warm and tropical at the end of the year, Chinese travellers are making the most of their New Year break by holidaying in Australia.

''We don't expect to see Chinese interest in this wonderful part of Australia waning any time soon.''

The hotel company Accor, whose Chinese guest numbers have risen 30 per cent in the past year, will decorate more than three dozen hotels with lanterns, ''Happy New Year of the Snake'' signs and Chinese flower arrangements.

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