THE Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) is wrapping up on the Gold Coast, with tourism bosses lauding the success of the local industry.

Visitors from across Australia and the world descended on the glitter strip for the highly anticipated event, which Tourism Australia head John O'Sullivan (pictured) says experienced record numbers.

"Something happens when we bring this particular event to Queensland," says O'Sullivan speaking at a Bond University event.

The Tourism Exchange attracted around 1500 Australian seller delegates from about 500 companies, 840 key buyer delegates from more than 30 countries, and 88 international and Australian media.

"It has just been fantastic to be able to showcase so many different parts and products of the Gold Coast to those buyers, because those buyers are the people who will buy product and they ultimately sell it," says O'Sullivan.  "They are a very, very important stakeholder for the industry and more broadly."

Speaking about tourism internationally, O'Sullivan says the opportunity in and around the rising Asian middle class is continuing to boom and was evident during the week-long event.

"It is quite ironic that of the 840 buyers that are here this week, just over half of them have come out of the Asian marketplace," says O'Sullivan.

"It has become, over the last few years, a real powerhouse for the Australian tourism industry."

O'Sullivan says back in 2010, Asian visitors ranked about 60 per cent of visitors coming into the country internationally.

"That is now normalised to about 46 per cent but over half of the $36 billion that was spent by international visitors last year have come out of the Asian region," says O'Sullivan.

Tourism Australia's most recent International Visitor report shows international visitors spent a record $36.6 billion in the year ending December 2015 - 18 per cent higher than a year earlier.

China alone accounted for 23 per cent of total trip spend with Chinese visitors up 20 per cent and nights up 18 per cent.

"The China impact on this country has been amazing," says O'Sullivan.

"Its growth rate was nearly two and a half times the average growth rate in terms of visitation to Australia (in 2015)."

The traditional markets out of the western hemisphere - the UK, US and New Zealand particularly - have also returned to growth.

In the year ending December 2015, UK visitors were up 6 per cent, US visitors were up 10 per cent and New Zealand visitors were up 5 per cent.

"But Asia is critical to the overarching success of the Australian tourism industry," says O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan says the Asian visitor is looking for four key attributes out of a destination like Australia - safety and security and that also includes friendliness and assuredness of experience, natural attractions, value for money, and also food and wine.

O'Sullivan says food and wine in particular is a growing sector that needs to be nurtured.

"Australia has got such an advantage in food and wine because of the melting pot of culture we have here and the number of cuisines and fresh ingredients we have," he says.

"I think what you'll see from our perspective is the pushing of experiences and food and wine will be a key part of that.

"It's so important to international visitors as it is to domestic visitors. The whole food proposition we take offshore is about people, produce and place. It's about the friendly people who serve you, the place you consume it and the produce that goes into it."

Meanwhile, Indian tourists are willing to pay for high-end experiences and their expectations are incredibly high.  They are also very emotive customers and look for experiences that resonate with the Indian culture.

About 20 per cent of all Americans, United Kingdom and German visitors want an indigenous experience, and business events is a growing sector.

"If you look at ATE, it is an example of a business event and the value of that alone we think will be anywhere between $11-13 million for five days here on the Gold Coast," says O'Sullivan.

Gold Coast Tourism partnered to deliver the ATE and CEO Martin Winter says the job was to ensure ATE delegates leave the Gold Coast with a fantastic impression of the city, Queensland and Australia.

"Our role as host of the event represents a unique opportunity to showcase our evolving city and its diverse offerings and we hope the anticipated positive ripple effect is felt by all our tourism partners," says Winter.

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