The federal government has extended multiple entry visas to Chinese nationals from three to 10 years to better compete with the US, which is also clamouring for more Asian tourists.

Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb announced the pilot multiple-entry visas for Chinese citizens last night, given more than 200 million Chinese people are expected to be travelling to destinations such as Australia by 2020. The number of Chinese arrivals to Australia in the year to February topped 877,400, up 18.4 per cent on the previous year.

Australia’s tourism sector will benefit greatly from increasing Chinese tourism through a new ten-year visitor visa announced today.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said the agreement seeks will allow more Chinese visitors to come and experience all that Australia has to offer while simultaneously providing immense benefits to Australia.

“Australia is a diverse and unique destination for international travellers and the Coalition Government is committed to ensuring we capitalise on our tourism opportunities,” Mr Dutton said.

A landmark Free Trade Agreement with China was also signed recently by the Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb and his counterpart Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.

Mr Robb said that this will provide an enormous boost to tourism.

“Chinese travellers are growing exponentially and it is estimated that by 2020, more than 200 million Chinese people will be travelling to destinations including Australia,” Mr Robb said.

“Increased visitor numbers in Australia translates into significant benefits for Australians and our economy. China is our largest source of tourism, already worth over $5 billion to the Australian economy.”

The Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaela Cash said this announcement built on the Coalition Government’s initiatives to realise the enormous potential that exists within the Chinese market.

“In terms of visa volume, processing speed and integrity outcomes, Australia is highly competitive,” Minister Cash said.

“The Government continues to progress the roll-out of online visa lodgements for Chinese nationals, in an effort to reduce unnecessary red tape whilst at the same time ensuring we maintain the integrity of our visa programmes.”

“It is essential that Australia remains at the cutting edge of innovation and is competitive in attracting tourists from our region – we must not forget that there is immense competition from other destinations.”

“Our research shows competitive visas are a big deal with the Chinese,” outgoing Tourism Australia chairman Geoff Dixon told The Australian yesterday. “Believe me, we need to be competitive. This 10-year multiple-entry visa will increase numbers. Chinese make a large amount of repeat visits to Australia, obviously some have invested here as well. It is becoming so vital it is at our peril if we don’t embrace it.”

But Mr Dixon, who steps down on June 30, acknowledged that Australia’s $110 billion tourism industry was not ready for the influx of mainland Chinese that started several years ago.

“Everybody has been shocked by the sheer weight of numbers,’’ he said. “But we really do have many of the things the Chinese want. They want a safe and secure destination, aquatic scenery, really good food and welcoming people. It’s almost as if we planned it.”