AS RECENTLY as 10 years ago travelling overseas meant flying to Britain (after the obligatory trip to New Zealand).

A radical reshaping of Australian tourist and business travel has Britain relegated to fifth place with China snapping at its heels at position No.6.

India, a decade ago not even near the top 10, has become Australia’s 10th most visited destination with 17,400 visits a month, up from 4000 10 years ago.

Nice Hotels in China

The Bureau of Statistics figures show that in February when Britain was at its coldest, more Australians visited China and more visited India than Britain.

Disney characters parade during the 20th birthday celebrations of Disneyland park in Chessy, near Marne-la-Vallee, outside Paris on March 31, 2012.Losing its shine … New figures have shown that more people are now opting for Indonesia than the United States. Photo: AFP

India, Thailand and China are by far our fastest-growing destinations with double-digit annual growth rates of 15, 14 and 13 per cent, eclipsing the US and Britain where visitor numbers are growing 7 and 4 per cent.

China and Hong Kong combined now take in more Australian visitors a month than the United States. Curiosity is growing in both directions.

Australia is receiving 47,000 visitors a month from China (and a further 15,000 from Hong Kong), well in excess of the 40,000 that come from the US and within spitting distance of the 49,000 from Britain.

Then and now ... the top 10 overseas destinations for Australians.Then and now … the top 10 overseas destinations for Australians.

China is on track to replace Britain as the biggest source of visitors to Australia after New Zealand.

The Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson, welcomed the new order, saying China had the potential to add $9 billion to Australia’s tourism industry by 2020.

”New aviation agreements mean there are now 900,000 seats a year between China and Australia and we are funding businesses to become China ready through the Welcoming Chinese Visitors Project,” he said. ”We are also focusing marketing on China.”

The Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive, John Lee, said he was pleased Australia was no longer as reliant on one source of visitors but warned against over-reliance on Australia’s biggest trading partner.

“We have to promote Australia in a variety of markets,” he said. ”Any ramping up of activities in China must be paid for by extra funding, not by shifting resources from other areas.”

Chinese visitor numbers dipped in February as a result of the timing of this year’s lunar new year.

Australians took 657,300 trips overseas in February, way in excess of the 498,900 visits to Australia from abroad.