Sydney, Australia

HONG KONG — Is Australia about to become the next big destination for Mainland Chinese tourists?

On Sunday, that scenario became a lot more likely as the two countries agreed to mutually lift all curbs on air passenger limits. It’s the latest move by Canberra to encourage greater spending by Chinese tourists down under, following the announcement of a 10-year visa for Chinese nationals.

“These new arrangements will remove all capacity restrictions between Australia and China for each country’s airline, which is an important enabler for increased trade and tourism,” Australian transport minister Darren Chester said.

Steven Ciobo, Australian minister for trade, tourism and investment, said there is “unlimited potential” in this agreement and it would help Australia snare a larger slice of the Chinese market.

China is Australia’s fastest growing and highest spending international visitor market. More than 1 million Chinese tourists visited Australia in 2015-16 (up 22.3 percent from the previous year), and spent almost 9 billion Australian dollars [about $6.7 billion] during their stay,” Ciobo said.

Tourism Australia expects that number to grow to more than 13 billion Australian dollars [$9.7 billion at current exchange] by 2020.

2017 has been designated as the “Australia-China Year of Tourism.” In April, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese premier Li Keqiang signed a memorandum of understanding to further tighten tourism ties.

One key inhibitor looms: If the Australian dollar remains strong against the renminbi. A CLSA survey in January found that Chinese travelers ranked Australia as the fourth most desirable destination if money was no object, behind only the U.S., France and the Maldives, but when it comes to actual tourist flows, it comes in ninth place.

Sydney was the top most visited destination in the country by 63 percent, according to Tourism Australia, followed by Melbourne at 51 percent and Gold Coast at 33 percent.

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