FORMER foreign minister Kevin Rudd has urged Qantas to offer more flights between Australia and China and desperately wants the tourism industry to embrace the Chinese language.
Mr Rudd, who is fluent in Mandarin, told a Queensland Tourism Industry Council forum that every Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast hotel should have tourist information in Chinese and every beach should warning signs for the most "valuable" tourists coming to Australia.
Mr Rudd said the Australian tourism industry stood to be "a massive beneficiary of the continuing change in China's economic growth model", its growing middle class, if it began preparing properly now.
He said the number of Chinese visitors to Australia soared by 16.6% last financial year (582,970 people) while Chinese visitors to Queensland grew 31%.
Mr Rudd said forecast showed the Chinese travel market could be three times the size of Japan's by 2020.
He said while China was Australia's third largest visitor source after New Zealand and the United Kingdom, it was the most valuable with Chinese visitors spending $3.8 billion here in 2011.
"The Australian travel industry must encourage, recruit and pay for Chinese language speaking Australian nationals to work across the breadth of our tourism industry," he said.
"The front desk of all our major hotels must have Chinese language skills for the future, so too with guided tours and with explanatory information for all our major tourism sites.
"Imagine if you landed in China and you had 10 days booked and not one front-desk staff in your hotel could speak a word of English.
"We're expecting (Australia) to be a multiple return destination for incoming Chinese tourists when there's not even the faintest effort to communicate.
"Surely as a nation with almost one million ethnic Chinese we can pull this off, not to mention encouraging non-ethnic Chinese Australians to pursue well-paid and secure careers in a critical emerging Chinse market.
"Once you do it (learn Mandarin) and you get across the threshold, it is an invaluable asset in terms of what you might be able to do with government and business or in the arts or science with what will be the next number one country in the world for the next generation.
"We need people who are brilliant at this stuff. It means time, effort and mastering like we do with engineering and other disciplines."
Mr Rudd told the forum it was easier to travel between Beijing and Sydney with Qantas in the 1980s than now, despite the growth.
He said Qantas should also pay attention to the emerging Chinese luxury tourism market and enhance its premium and business classes.
"Surely this expanding Chinese market is big enough for our national carrier to have an aggressive national growth strategy for the world's second largest economy, for the world's about-to-be-largest travelling class of people and one which virtually lies within our own time-zone," he said.
Mr Rudd said he had not seen enough Chinese language on beach warning signs on the Sunshine and Gold coasts.
"People get into difficulty in the ocean," he said.
"We have become instinctive respecters of the violence of our seas.
"Visitors for the first time often see it as a very large and attractive swimming pool."
QTIC chairman Shane O'Reilly said getting Chinese-speaking staff was a challenge for the future and one the industry needed government help with.
"It's pretty hard to hire Chinese staff ... not easy in the current market to get them to move to a regional area unless you move them in on a 457 visa and that has been eased up recently but it's hard work," he said.