A new agreement by Chinese airlines operating routes to Australia is set to offer Australian tourists greater access to China in the new year.
On Tuesday the general managers of all six Chinese airlines operating direct routes between Australia and mainland China met to pledge cooperation to the 2017 China-Australia Year of Tourism (CAYOT).
The CAYOT is an initiative established in April of this year by leaders of both countries to boost tourism and improve bilateral relations in 2017. General managers of the airlines signed a memorandum of understanding to show their cooperation to this initiative.
Kathy Zhang, regional general manager for China Eastern Airlines, said the agreement was "good news for the travel industry and for people who love travelling."
It will entail opening up access to tourist destinations outside of major hubs such as Beijing and Shanghai. Routes from Australia to destinations such as Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, and Sichuan province, known for its panda sanctuaries and renowned spicy cuisine, have recently been introduced to give tourists a wider range of options.
There are currently direct flights between Australia and 13 mainland Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an, home to the Terracotta Warriors.
Zhang said that this will offer greater convenience to travellers, by providing more direct routes to a greater number of Chinese cities.
"People want to have this freedom," she said.
The co-operating airlines include Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.
CAYOT will also pay particular attention to improving the already booming Chinese tourism market in Australia.
Mr Yang Zhi, the Minister Counsellor for Culture for the Chinese Embassy in Australia said that China is poised to overtake New Zealand as Australia's largest tourist market.
More than one million Chinese visited Australia from July 2015 to June 2016 - up 23 per cent from a year earlier - and spent about $8.9 billion, up 27 per cent from a year ago, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
China is already Australia's most valuable tourism market, expected to be worth more than $13 billion by 2020.
Next year is set to be a record year for Chinese tourists coming to Australia, both in terms of visit numbers and total spend across the travel and retail sector.
In the other direction, Australians rank 13th among international visitors to China, with more than 720,000 Aussies visiting mainland China each year, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
Ms Zhang called the initiative, "the wisest way for the two governments to build their relationship."
Mr Luo Weijian, Director of China National Tourist Office in Australia and New Zealand announced a number of different strategies to boost awareness of CAYOT, to be implemented in 2017.
He was particularly excited about plans to float an eight-metre-tall koala and panda duo on Darling Harbour from New Year's Day. The giant animals are CAYOT's official mascots, though approval for the stunt is still pending.
In November, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that a trial of 10-year multiple entry visas for Chinese citizens would begin soon. It's hoped that measures such as these will continue to stimulate growth for the Australian tourism industry.
See also: China Eastern adds direct Sydney route