Tourism hit hard as Australians chose to travel overseas


The number of Australians choosing to leave Australia for their holidays will continue to outstrip the number of tourists arriving here, delivering yet another blow to an already embattled domestic tourism industry, forecasts show.

Lured by cheap air fares and a strong dollar, 6.5 million people are expected to choose an overseas destination next year, the Federal Government is forecasting.

The growth in the number of overseas visitors cannot keep up with an apparently insatiable demand for overseas travel by Australians: the number of overseas visitors next year is expected to rise 4.3 per cent to 5.8 million, says the government’s Tourism Forecasting Committee.

In September nearly twice as many Australians visited the US than Americans came here.

The Government’s multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to persuade Australians to take their estimated 123 million days of accrued leave appears to have succeeded in one respect only: we are taking our holidays but not at home.

”Next year will be the second-worst year for domestic tourism, after this year,” said Euan Robertson of the industry group Tourism & Transport Forum. The number of nights Australians spend away from home will fall by 6.3 per cent this year and will rise by a modest 2.3 per cent next year.

”We want to see more focus on tourism product … we’d like to see an increased … capacity [in accommodation] in capital cities, in particular in Sydney, which has seen little built since the Olympics,” he said.

It is doubtful a slew of new hotel rooms or attractions would dissuade Wade Milne from going overseas. He has just returned from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Bali – his third this year – and said he would never consider taking a holiday in Australia.

“It’s all the same no matter where you go in Australia but costs twice as much.”

Mr Milne, a commercial analyst living in Edgecliff, prefers Pacific and Asian destinations because they are “quick and cheap”. He bought his tickets for his recent nine-day holiday in Bali, which he estimates cost him $1000 including flights, two weeks before he left the country. “If I see some [cheap tickets], I just jump into it.”

But yesterday the NSW Tourism Minister, Jodi McKay, gave a bullish outlook for the summer, citing anecdotal evidence from tourism operators of a 10 per cent increase in bookings for January over a year ago.

“This year was bad … [but] I think … next year we are going to see an influx of visitors both domestically and internationally. We are expecting more people to travel in 2010 as families take a hard-earned break from what has been a tough year,” she said.

The general manager of the Tourism Industry Council NSW, Brian Hardiman, said the global financial crisis and the swine flu scare had affected tourism this year.

“What a year we’ve had … we really need a shot in the arm, and I believe we’re going to have it in 2010.”