By Peter Shelley, Managing Director, Australian Tourism Export Council
Everything’s great right?
It’s 12 months since our borders opened, China is finally back, and things are starting to look a lot like normal as we move into 2023 so everything’s great right?
Well sadly that’s not what our inbound data is showing. While the industry has done really well in making the most of our captive travellers (aka Aussies holidaying at home for a while) the tide is turning, and those Aussies are once again heading back overseas while our inbound recovery remains sluggish. As the latest arrivals and departures numbers from the ABS confirm, there were more Aussies returning from an overseas holiday in December than there were international holiday makers arriving.
The UNWTO’s Recovery Tracker gives us a bit of insight. It’s predicting a pretty positive 2023 for global travel after the northern hemisphere rounded off 2022 with surprising strength. In December 2022, international tourism arrivals for Europe were at 87% of the same month in 2019. Likewise, the Americas were at 82% and the Middle East is at an impressive 97%. Even Africa is back to 79% of its pre-covid travel numbers.
Here in Australia we are certainly nobbled by the tyranny of distance and the cost of flights and flight availability is consistently noted by our members as a significant market impediment. On top of that, as we move forward, our domestic business is likely to soften and there may well be quite a flat period ahead for our industry.
While no one expects a sudden surge back to 2019 numbers, the addition of China visitors will help to strengthen the inbound visitor market, albeit limited in the short term as the China recovery gathers pace.
ATEC’s China focused travel buyers, the ones who know the market really well, are suggesting the full recovery of the China market might not happen until 2025 or beyond. Pointing to the same issues of flight availability and cost, along with ongoing political factors and restrictions, these buyers are suggesting it’s time for Australian tourism businesses to focus on quality over quantity in order to fill the revenue gap.
Looking more broadly, the return of Chinese students will undoubtedly have a positive impact on tourism businesses as these visitors look to explore Australia, invite their friends and family and are likely to take up some of the hospitality work opportunities offered in our sector. ANZ Research predicts these students will bolster our GDP by 0.4 percentage points too. All good news.
We know we have a gap, but what can we do to fix it? ATEC is asking for the Government to deliver on its pre-election pledge of $10m to support tourism exporters to get back into the market.
This investment in the tourism export sector is critical to help re-establish trade relationships, many of which were lost during the pandemic given the number of experienced staff who were stood down.
ATEC is also calling on the government to increase its funding of Tourism Australia, our globally respected marketing agency who is now competing in an even more competitive marketplace where many countries are chasing the valuable international visitor to drive revenues for both industry and governments as part of the post pandemic recovery strategy.