Chinese become top Australian visitors

Chinese travellers accounted for the largest group of visitors to Australia for the first time in February, data showed Tuesday, with Chinese New Year holidays and students driving the surge.

Some 77,000 Chinese touched down in Australia in February, the statistics bureau said, beating New Zealand, Britain and the United States for the first time with a 30 percent jump compared to a year earlier.

The Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) said there had been almost 30,000 extra visitors this January and February due to growing international student numbers and more Chinese getting away for the Lunar New Year holiday.

TTF chief John Lee said China had "incredible potential" for Australia, with a rising and increasingly wealthy middle class.

"To meet the needs of growing numbers of Chinese visitors, we must ensure that tourism operators are prepared, with cultural awareness, language skills, cuisine and activities tailored to their needs," said Lee.

Singapore and Malaysia also rallied strongly - both up more than 10 percent - while Japan, traditionally one of Australia's best markets, slipped to fifth place with a 12.5 percent drop to 33,500 visitors.

Total arrivals stood at 498,400, 3.6 percent higher than a year earlier.

The number of Australians jetting overseas boomed 8.8 percent from a year earlier to 612,300, growing 0.4 percent from January, as the local currency rocketed to record highs above parity with the greenback.