Jun 19, 2013

    A Forbidden City to woo the Chinese

    AUSTRALIA'S coastal Wyong region outside Sydney, a pretty stretch of pristine beaches and wildlife-filled wetlands, isn't high on the travel agenda of most Chinese tourists.

    But the local mayor and a Chinese businessman have big plans to change that - by building a A$500-million (S$597-million) theme park that will include a full-size replica of Beijing's Forbidden City and a nine-storey temple housing a giant Buddha.

    "We were the fourth or fifth (local government) council they approached after everybody else laughed in their face," said Wyong Mayor Doug Eaton, who hopes to have the last laugh with a development projected to attract millions of Chinese tourists.

    News of the park has already made headlines in China and the theory is that it will attract visitors in the same way that Americans travel to EuroDisney, a familiar cultural icon in a new and exotic location.

    In the United States, there was a proposal last year to build a replica of the Great Wall on a mountain range overlooking Los Angeles, but it never got off the ground.

    The Australian park, whose construction is due to start next year, is one of the more unusual attempts by Australia to win a slice of the world's largest outbound tourism market as it looks for an economic boost to replace its fading mining boom.

    Chinese tourists spent US$102 billion (S$128 billion) worldwide last year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, contributing some A$3.8 billion to the Australian economy.