Li Na of China returns a ball during a match against Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in the first round of Australian Open on Jan. 16, 2012. [Source:Sina.com]
Grand Slam champion Li Na has boosted Chinese tourism in Australia and could help double the number of visitors in the next five years, a report said on Tuesday.
The "Li Factor" was behind a 30 percent rise in Australian Open ticket sales in China after the Wuhan native reached last year's final and went on to win the French Open, the Herald Sun said.
"About 53 million Chinese left their country on a holiday last year," Tourism and Transport Forum boss John Lee told the newspaper.
"Of those, 500,000 came to Australia. That number could double in five years, helped by the Li Factor."
The 29-year-old Li became Asia's first Grand Slam finalist in Melbourne last year, when she lost to Belgian Kim Clijsters, and won over many fans with her jokes and charisma.
Li's French Open win catapulted her to super stardom in China, where her popularity is rated alongside that of basketball's Yao Ming. Lee said he hoped she would win in Melbourne "for the free publicity it would give Australia".
"The Chinese fans are not only visiting Melbourne and its surrounds," he said. "They will visit Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru.
"She's made a successful start to 2012, and if that continues Li could be more valuable to Australian tourism than Oprah."
Australia, whose tourism industry has hit trouble after a boom in the 1990s, arranged for US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey to visit last year to highlight the country's attractions on her widely-watched program.