Australia’s tourism industry has weathered the global financial downturn of 2009 better than expected, with new data showing international visitors only slightly down.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data out on Monday showed just 1700 fewer international tourists visited Australia in 2009 compared to 2008, defying an estimated worldwide drop in international tourism of four per cent.
But the number of Australians travelling overseas skyrocketed by nearly half a million, outstripping arrivals.
Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said the figures – which included gains and falls in different key markets – highlighted the industry’s resilience.
“Despite the headwind of the global financial crisis and the outbreak of the H1N1 virus, Australian tourism managed to break even on international tourist numbers, defying the global downturn last year,” he said in a statement.
“These results show practical plans to lessen the impact of global events on travel to Australia last year have worked to a point.”
Mr McEvoy said a strong finish to the year was behind the better-than-expected result and Tourism Australia would be working with industry to return international numbers to growth in 2010.
Tourism Transport Forum (TTF) executive director Brett Gale said maintaining arrivals had come at a cost, with businesses cutting prices and sacrificing profitability to keep up demand.
Low airfares and great value accommodation deals had significant impacts on businesses’ bottom lines, he said.
“The forecasts at the beginning of 2009 were for a drop in international arrivals of 4.1 per cent so holding steady is a great result,” he said.
But as many as 30,000 jobs in the industry had been shed as tourism operators battled to stay afloat, he said.
Mr Gale said the good news was that demand had picked up, with convention delegates, holiday travellers and business travellers all growing in December.
But the phenomenal growth in Australians travelling overseas was “bad news” for trade, as it meant Australia was now a significant net importer of tourism.
For only the second time in more than 20 years, Aussie holidaymakers who left the country outnumbered international tourists who arrived, the statistics showed.
In 2008, the difference was about 200,000. In 2009, 6.3 million Aussies flew overseas and the difference ballooned to more than 700,000.