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A Chinese reality romance show with hundreds of millions of viewers is filming in Western Australia, in a surprise move which has thrilled the local tourism industry.
The show’s English title is Viva La Romance, or Wife’s Romantic Travel in China, and focuses on the adventures of celebrity couples in exotic locations.
It is one of China’s biggest reality shows, and will feature Zhang Ziyi, one of China’s best known actors, who featured in Memoirs of a Geisha and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
While the cast and crew visited Busselton Jetty and Rottnest Island this week they surprised many by filming in the beach suburb of Rockingham — an area historically known for both its beautiful beaches and high youth unemployment — where they swam with dolphins and visited Penguin Island.
Production kept under wraps, but locals thrilled
In Busselton, about 200 kilometres south of Perth, locals were surprised to see filming taking place on the end of the city’s iconic 1.8km jetty, amid a crowd of local holiday makers.
Local authorities had been asked to keep details of the filming under wraps but the cast and crew were seen dining at local restaurant The Goose, and taking a ride on a train that runs the length of the jetty, with locals describing them as “lovely to deal with”.
The Goose owner, Qi Qi, said she ensured bottles of local wine were given to the cast, saying there was growing demand for “wine tourism” in China.
“We have beautiful wine here, and beautiful scenery,” she said.
Businessman Peter Gordon owns local restaurant The Equinox and said it was exciting news for the region, and said there was little disruption to the foreshore, despite the high-profile visitors.
“The filming was out at the end of the jetty, and it was all under wraps as far as we could see,” he said.
Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said he was thrilled at the visit.
“We understand that the stars of the show have massive followings in China,” he said.
“Their visit to Western Australia and to Busselton, in particular, will certainly help raise the profile of this region as a holiday destination among the burgeoning Chinese market.
“It’s a fabulous way to showcase the region to a very lucrative and growing tourism market.”
WA missing out on Chinese tourism boom
There has been a major surge in Chinese visitors to Australia, with Bureau of Statistics figures showing numbers jumped 13 per cent to 1.39 million visitors in the year to February 2018.
But WA is often bypassed in favour of iconic east-coast destinations such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, and the ABC understands members of WA’s Chinese Australian business community helped to convince producers to chose Perth and the South West over the higher profile tourism destination of Queensland.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia welcomed the filming of the show, which comes amid a push by Tourism WA to double Chinese visitor numbers to 100,000 a year by 2020.
Mr Papalia said 57,000 Chinese visitors come to Western Australia each year and spent $271 million, making China the state’s largest international visitor market by spend, but he said there was still a long way to go.
“Few people know about us because there aren’t that many flights and there isn’t that much of a spend over there,” he said.
Mr Papalia said there were no direct financial incentives towards convincing the producers to come to WA, but he said the government’s Shanghai Trade Office helped facilitate negotiations and Tourism WA helped to show locals around.
“We’ve committed extra money towards raising awareness of Western Australia, but this sort of show will help because you get a massive return and we’re not paying for it,” he said.
He said WA had missed out so far on the full benefit of the Chinese tourism market.
“The Chinese tourism market is the driver of the tourism boom that’s been going on on the East Coast,” he said.
“The reason why Western Australia has missed out, is that we haven’t really been part of it [in the past].
“We only have one airline flying from China and we’re trying to grow that, grow the number of flights, and the number of cities from which they fly, as that is the key to the eastern states’ boom in tourism.
“We have one airline — China Southern flying from Guangzhao — it will be flying five days a week, in Melbourne they have 14 direct flights a day … at the end of the day it’s all about direct flights and China is the elephant.”
Mr Papalia said Tourism WA would be working with Chinese travel agents to make sure the exposure translated into bookings and a boost for the local tourism industry.
Social media exposure crucial
Edith Cowan University Tourism Professor Sam Huang said the news the program was being filmed in WA was already circulating on Chinese social media, including on WeChat.
He said the show would provide crucial social media exposure for WA.
“It seems that they are targeting young people with a kind of fashionable lifestyle, which is exactly the current travel market,” he said.
He said there was an appetite among young Chinese tourists for more exotic locations, which could explain why producers were convinced to chose WA over higher profile destinations, such as Queensland.
“Chinese people are quite up to the front in terms of tourism, they would like to explore further into our regions,” he said.
“I think that’s why they would like to put some scenery from a remote area to have this show happening.”
The show is expected to air in March.