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China’s ”second-tier” cities – a vast, untapped and increasingly wealthy market of more than 100 million people – will be the focus of a campaign by Australian tourism officials.

Tourism Australia will spearhead today a drive by domestic airports to attract tourists from such cities. Research shows the travel profile of those living in secondary cities is almost identical to those in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The Routes Asia forum at Chengdu, a new aviation hub in central western China, is being held so airline planners can decide which future routes should be developed based on demand.

Soon, Australia could have direct flights to cities such as Chongqing (population 7 million), Hangzhou (population 9 million), Nanjing (8 million) and Tianjin (13 million). The research is based on 13 cities, but the geographic strategy will target more than 30 in three phases up to 2020.

The managing director of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy, said the low-cost Singapore Airlines subsidiary, Scoot, planned to get into 10 second-tier cities.

”There are other airlines, Hainan and others in China, who would consider flying from some of these second-tier cities directly to Australia,” he said. ”Second-tier city constituents have the same mindset as first-tier cities and they are getting up to the same level of income. They want to travel, and Australia … is No. 1 in their mindset. Our mission is to hold or grow market share in a growing outbound market.”

The job of domestic airports, which for the first time will present a combined voice on the issue, is to convince the airlines there is enough demand from Australia so aircraft are not flying home half full. There were about 372,200 outbound resident departures to China for the year to January, a growth of 9 per cent on the previous year, according to research for Tourism Australia.

The vice-president of the Routes Asia forum, Nigel Mayes, said: “Air service development is a highly competitive environment and we would encourage others to take a leaf out of team Australia’s book by ensuring they provide a clear picture of what destinations and their airports have to offer.”

Figures released last week showed the strength of the Australian dollar was taking a heavy toll on the nation’s tourism industry.

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