Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s best-known stretches of sand and Sydney’s third most visited spot, is about to become a lot greener. On Tuesday the Waverly Council unveiled an ambitious ten-year blueprint to replace the concrete aspects of the iconic spot with grass, trees and structures for shade. In particular, the areas of the swaths of the beach currently dedicated to parking will take on more natural contours.
"Just to spruce it up, can you imagine not having cars?" said Waverly mayor Sally Betts.
New parking areas would be built out of sight in multi-level underground garages. Meanwhile, above ground, large areas would become pedestrian-only, including a new boardwalk. Toilets, playgrounds and fitness equipment will be upgraded, alongside a skate park and cafes with views of the surf.
Leading up to the beach, a tree-lined boulevard will funnel sun lovers to the beach entrance via the Bondi Pavilion, an arts and culture space built during the early 20th century that once housed a ballroom and Turkish baths, which will be restored to its former glory. The beach will also become more fun, with volleyball – previously banned – approved at its south end.
“We were conscious of preserving Bondi's heritage and character while finding ways to enhance and boost its cultural vitality,” said Betts, who touted the new vision for Bondi – open to public comment until the end of May – as “the biggest change ever” for the one-kilometer sliver of coastline. Betts added, “There are more people coming to Bondi all the time.”
Indeed, there are. At present, Bondi lures some 50,000 visitors on an average summer day and 1.8 million people yearly (some estimates say 2.2 million). Among those who come to splash in the water and soak up the sun, 1.1 million come from overseas. About half of all visitors to Sydney make the pilgrimage to the beach.
Ranking in popularity only behind the city’s famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Bondi (an Aboriginal word referring to the sound of breaking waves) has a history of charming visitors. Over time it has amassed a certain cache, conjuring images of surfboards, BBQ and nightlife – an image that has been used to great effect in tourism efforts.
While a healthy flow of tourist traffic comes from the United States and Britain, there is a more significant trend worth noting: the visitors to Bondi are increasingly Chinese, who are flocking to the beach in droves – a fact well noted by the Australian government.
In 2012, Chinese visitors to Australia were triple the level of a decade ago, growing 16 percent on year to account for nearly 630,000 of Australia’s six million overseas arrivals – second only to New Zealand – according to statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is only the beginning. Last year, Chinese officially surpassed German and American tourists as the biggest spenders on tourism, with 83 million people spending a total of U.S. $102 billion on overseas travel. By 2015, a report by the UN suggests, 100 million Chinese will go on holiday overseas.
In an effort to lure as much of this traffic as possible to Australia, still fresh from rubbing elbows with Xi Jinping last month, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the A$1.75 million “G’Day China” campaign in Shanghai. The effort will effectively be a A$175 million crusade to woo Chinese travelers in 2014. Judging from the last such campaign, “G’Day USA” – which had celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman on board – the China push will be executed with style and panache.
Campaign or not, Australia won’t have to work too hard. The country seems ready made for Chinese travelers. In the Visa PATA Travel Intention Survey, aimed at finding out what Chinese tourists crave most, three things came to the fore: “natural scenery, sunshine and beaches.” It sounds like Bondi’s makeover is coming just in time.