Busloads of Chinese tourists arrive at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien
Busloads of Chinese tourists arrive at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien

Rorting scandal threatening our beach tourism

CHINESE tour operators are charging guests to visit our famous beaches and other attractions that shouldn't cost a cent.

Tourism leaders have slammed the practice and say it needs to be wiped out immediately for fear of angering visitors from our biggest international tourism market.

Unscrupulous Chinese tour operators have been the target of several official crackdowns by authorities over the years, but it was hoped the bad practices were disappearing as Chinese tourists increasingly shun tour groups for solo travel.

But industry insiders have told The Sunday Mail shameless tour companies are charging guests to visit Gold Coast beaches, with reports that visits to parks and gardens are also attracting charges.

Speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardising their contracts with our biggest tourism market, operators said Chinese tourists were being conned into paying to visit beaches.

"It's not right and it shouldn't be happening," said one. "It's a joke that they're able to get away with it but no one wants to speak up about it."

Sources say the tour operators disguise the charges under "transfer" or "tour guide fees" even though most hotels used are within walking distance of the beach and visits only take place at flagged and patrolled areas.

Chinese Tourists at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien
Chinese Tourists at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien

They also say they are fed up with tour companies who negotiate contracts down to virtually zero by threatening to take their business elsewhere.

"They play us all off against each other and everybody loses," one operator said.

State Tourism Minister Kate Jones and Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind led the chorus condemning the behaviour.

"It's stories like this that give the industry a bad name," Ms Jones said. "I urge anyone with evidence of fraudulent behaviour to contact police.

"Everyone knows people visit the Gold Coast for its iconic beaches. The fact that our beaches are free unlike other places around the world is one of our major drawcards."

Mr Gschwind said the reports were concerning and bad for business.

"If we're hearing that this is still taking place we should all be very worried," he said.

"Not only does it rip off the visitors, it tarnishes our reputation if these people go home and broadcast their unpleasant or unfortunate experiences.

"These kind of practices have no place in our tourism industry, or anywhere for that matter."

Busloads of Chinese tourists arrive at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien
Busloads of Chinese tourists arrive at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Picture: Jason O'Brien

China has overtaken New Zealand as Queensland's biggest tourism market with more than 500,000 visitors injecting an estimated $1.4 billion into the state's economy in the year to September.

A spokeswoman for Queensland's Office of Fair Trading said there had been no specific complaints in recent years about Chinese tour operators charging guests to access beaches but any instance would be a breach of Australian Consumer Law and the official code of conduct for inbound tour operators.

A succession of unmarked white tour buses full of Chinese tourists stop off at Gold Coast beaches every day.

When approached by The Sunday Mail, tour leaders politely said they do not speak English and cannot answer questions.

Few of the tourists even remove their shoes during the brief stops and The Sunday Mail did not witness any of them venture into the water.



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