Leading figures in China's travel industry have lodged complaints over the "demeaning" nature of Australia's visa application process and said it is turning potential tourists away from the country.
The warning was delivered to delegates of an Australian trade mission to China, which included the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC).
It will set alarm bells ringing within Tourism Australia which has put significant investment into attracting tourists from China and is relying on huge growth to hit its 2020 targets.
ATEC chairman John King said feedback from the Chinese industry illustrated the "onerous and in some cases demeaning" visa process faced by travellers wanting to visit Australia.
"There was high level and consistent feedback from key industry partners during trade mission discussions that the amount of documentation required to get a visa is now the major issue restricting greater growth for Australia from this market," he said. "There is a clear indication that many high yielding Chinese visitors are choosing destinations which have less onerous visa application systems such as Canada, the USA and now the UK."
According to ATEC, the issue lies not with the time taken by Australian visa centres but in the type of information demanded by officials.
That includes the need for Chinese visitors to provide their "family registration book", a crucial document usually held by senior family members and which King described as "invaluable to the family and closely guarded by the holder".
Gaining access to the registration book by prospective visitors and presenting it to Australian authorities "is just too hard", he said.
In addition, visa applicants must fill in an 18-page document.
"Australia is beginning to look quite antiquated in its visa application system, particularly in an environment where countries such as the UK have changed their system to be more accommodating of these restrictions."
King welcomed recent moves to introduce multi entry visas for Chinese business travellers but insisted urgent action was now required to review and simplify the application itself. Failure to act will see Australia miss out on the burgeoning outbound travel market from China.
"In order to achieve the full potential the Chinese visitor market offers, we need to ensure access for Free Independent Travellers is maximised and this requires an easily accessed and quickly processed visa system," King said.