China is Australia’s most valuable tourism market. More than a million Chinese visited Australia last year, contributed $8.3 billion to our economy.
So we're delighted, Richard and I, to be here today to launch Tourism Australia’s new digital platform in China. This is optimised for use on mobile devices, designed for the seven hundred million Chinese smartphones. To connect to social media, to enable virtual experience of visiting Australia and of course, it enables individual prospective tourists in China to see the wonders of Australia and see the exciting opportunities of coming to visit us.
This is a very important step change in our marketing in Australia. It makes Australia more accessible. More available. More compelling as a tourism destination and this morning Tourism Australia and Air China signed a memorandum of understanding to continue their strong cooperation out to 2020. That $6 million agreement will be focussed on digital advertising, data sharing and again, like the smartphone application, aims to attract independent holiday travellers to Australia.
As part of this Australia-China tourism agenda, we're really delighted to announce the Australia-China Year of Tourism in 2017. Both our Governments are working on a programme of events in China and Australia, throughout 2017, to promote the tourism relationship.
And as part of that, we're making it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Australia. Eight student visa categories will be reduced to two, to make it more straightforward and easier for students to apply to come and study in Australia. But for the first time, we are trialling applications, visa applications, in a language other than English – in Putonghua - in Mandarin Chinese. And there will be online visa applications from China, again for the first time.
We're also trialling ten-year validity visas. Again for the first time here in China. This shows the commitment of Australia to strengthen this vitally important tourism relationship and of course it's a very important part of our economic story. But it is also a key element in bringing our two countries and our two peoples closer together. The more Chinese come to Australia, Australians go to China, the closer we become together, the better we understand each other, the more opportunities for further engagement at every level. Social, academic, economic, commercial.
It’s a very strong relationship and I just want to thank everybody involved, from Tourism Australia in particular, compliment the Minister for Tourism for his efforts. This is an important day as we work together to ensure that the Australia-China Year of Tourism in 2017 is a resounding success.
Thank you very much.