Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Hands up who's in the country"

1 in 40 of us are overseas!

We hung an "out of the country" sign on the door in the second half of last year.

Tourism figures released yesterday show that in a typical month 558,000 Australians were out of the country, about 2.5 per cent of the population or roughly 1 in every 40 Australians.

A year before with economic conditions looking less rosy and the Australian dollar much lower, just 487,000 of us left per month, some 13 per cent less.

The sharp jump in departures has played havoc with what the industry calls our balance of tourism. Whereas until February inbound and outbound tourism were roughly in line, since then the two have diverged as departures have climbed to new heights and arrivals slumped pushing the gap to its widest on record in July and the second-widest in November.

"It's the strong economy, its the strong dollar, and it's much cheaper flights," said Euan Robertson, research manager at the Tourism and Transport Forum...

"We've had new flights to the United States, the Middle East, New Zealand and Malaysia. That means many more seats for sale at a time when demand is down. The only way to shift those seats has been to cut prices. We've seen incredible fares and so of course Australians have taken advantage of them."

"It's the same with hotels. Every part of the supply chain has had to drop prices to keep customers going through the doors, and that's before we talk about the strong Australian dollar."

"A year ago we thought the weak Aussie would get us through. We thought that rather than taking a trip to the United States or Europe the family trip to the Gold Coast would come back into vogue."

"To some extent we have seen that. Very localised tourism is up. Zoos and aquariums have done quite well, but from local visitors. Sydney attractions have been attracting Sydney residents, Melbourne attractions have been attracting Melbourne residents. But when it comes to domestic travel it's been the worst year on record."

New Zealand remains the most popular destination for Australians heading overseas, accounting for 1 in every 6 departures. Since June Indonesia has replaced the United States as Australia's second most popular destination, now accounting for 1 in every 10 trips out of the country.

New Zealand and the UK remain our biggest tourist markets with Japan slipping from third to sixth place over the past year as arrivals plunged 23 per cent. Arrivals from Ireland are down 16 per cent, from Canada 9 per cent, and from South Africa 7 per cent.

"We've seen a recovery of sorts in recent months, but inbound tourism is still weak," said Mr Robertson.

"From the industry's point of view we know that the extra seats are going to get filled. The key question is whether they are going to keep getting filled by people going out, or whether there's some way we can fill them with people coming here."

"We can't do anything about the dollar but we can about marketing. The government brought forward $9 million funding from next financial year to this financial year. We are worried about what happens when it runs out."

China replaced the UK as Australia's biggest source of migrants in the middle of the year. Since July it has accounted for around 7800 permanent arrivals to the UK's 7300.

Where we're going

November departures

New Zealand 79,400
Indonesia 49,500
United States 48,800
Thailand 32,200
China 23,800

Who's coming here

November arrivals

New Zealand 90,800
United Kingdom 64,200
United States 43,600
China 31,400
Singapore 30,500

Source: ABS 3401.0

Published in today's SMH and Age

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