Avoid relying too heavily on China: Star chairman

Star Entertainment Group chairman John O’Neill says Australia has the potential to attract at least five times as many Chinese visitors as it does today, but warns against relying too heavily on the market.

“We have got, at all costs, to avoid complacency with China,” he said in an interview with The Weekend Australian.

“The Chinese market is incredibly important, but we shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket.

“There are other important markets in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia,” he said.

Mr O’Neill stressed that the Australian tourism industry needed to closely watch developments in China, namely shifts in government policies.

The chairman did not talk about rival Crown Resorts and its recent debacle in China, but said that companies such as Star, which operated in the casino business, needed to be sensitive to government policies in each of the places in which they operated.

“We operate in a highly regulated environment in all our ­various jurisdictions,” said Mr O’Neill.

“Each market has its nuances which must be understood by operatives. There cannot be any room for complacency. Early warning signals, or changes to the rules of engagement, must be monitored carefully and responded to proactively.”

Mr O’Neill however said Australia still had the potential to significantly boost the number of Chinese tourists coming to the country as long as it could build enough infrastructure and hotel supply.

“There are 100 million Chinese tourists who travel overseas a year now,” he said. “We have got about 1.2 million a year, or about 1 per cent of them. Australia should be picking up about 5 per cent of that. There is no reason why we can’t,” he said.

When asked about plans for international expansion, Mr O’Neil said they are not expanding into China or any other overseas destinations.

“We are a partnering with Chinese investment, bringing it into our properties in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. There are endless benefits they bring to the table.”

The chairman was referring The Star group’s A$2.5 billion casino, hotel and entertainment project in Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf precinct.

“It is a model for how to bring in Hong Kong and Chinese investment into Australia,” he said.