Perspective – February 2013

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Ian McMahon

Inbound outperforms forecast

AS the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) has recently pointed out, China’s importance to Australia’s tourism industry has again been highlighted, with new figures showing the number of Chinese visitors to Australia jumped 15.5 per cent in 2012.

That’s more than three times the overall growth in inbound traffic. Australian Bureau of Statistics inbound tourism data up to December 2012 show Australia’s total arrivals grew by only 4.6 per cent in 2012.

Only? That’s actually a pretty good performance in the wake of a soaring Australian dollar and economic recession in traditional markets. In fact it’s double the official forecast. Take a bow Tourism Australia.

Above all, let’s acknowledge that this country’s tourism industry – for all the negatives we hear about constantly – provides an overall quality product and value for money that can continue to lure visitors to our shores in the face of steep price rises forced on operators by the vagaries of the world’s currency markets.

However we need to recognise that the industry’s achievement in sustaining inbound tourism growth is based to a large extent on the development of non-traditional Asian markets.

In 2012 this particularly applied to China but, as TTF acting chief executive Trent Zimmerman pointed out, we also reaped the dividends of continuing growth from other near neighbours in Asia, including Malaysia (up 8.9 per cent), Singapore (up 7.8 per cent), and India (up 7.5 per cent), and a continuing recovery in arrivals from Japan (up 6.4 per cent).

This is not to disparage results from traditional long haul markets. It is worth noting the 4.9 per cent increase in arrivals from the US which is our fourth largest source market.

But as Zimmerman says, it is right for Tourism Australia to be putting a strong focus on marketing and promotional activities in the growth markets of Asia.

And one can only join with him in lauding those Australian tourism operators, who are working hard to ensure they can “capitalise on the opportunity presented by the rise in arrivals from China and other Asian nations”.

Similarly it is impossible to disagree with his sentiment that government support is vital to the tourism industry.

With the federal election set down for September 14, TTF is calling on all sides of politics to commit to at the very least maintaining funding for tourism marketing and infrastructure investment.

“We are also seeking commitments to expanding the working holiday maker scheme to more of our growth markets in Asia, including China, and for no further increases in tourism taxes and charges,” said Zimmerman.

“Our competitiveness as a destination is already affected by the persistent strength of the Australian dollar without additional fee hikes further increasing the burden on our international visitors.”
Let’s hope the country’s politicians heed his message because, as he says, “tourism directly employs more than 500,000 people and indirectly employs a further 400,000 providing business and job opportunities in every electorate in the country”.