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Bumper 2018 tourism figures reveal some unusual trends

April 1, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

International tourism to Australia hit a record high in 2018 – but the profile of Australia’s visitors is changing; the number of backpackers arriving took a dive and some unusual trends are evident.

International visitor survey results released over the weekend reveal that a record 8.5 million overseas tourists made Australia their holiday destination of choice in 2018, pumping AUD 44 billion into the Australian economy.

Visitors, however, are growing older. Most of the growth seen during the year was the result of increases in the number of older travellers – in fact 93% of the growth in visitors was from increased travel by those aged 30 and over. This bracket grew by 6% (an additional 362,000 visitors). In contrast, visitors aged 15-29 grew by just 1% (an additional 26,000 visitors).

The number of backpackers actually fell 4% during the year to 605,000. Growth in first-time visitors slowed as well, with numbers remaining steady at 3.1 million. This is the lowest result since 2011 when the number fell by 1%. In contrast, repeat visitors increased by 8% to reach 5.4 million.

Japan, a fast-growing destination for Australian travellers, is also a star performer for travel in the other direction – recording the strongest growth of Australia’s top five markets.

Japan is fastest growing of Australia’s Top Five tourism sources –  and tourists, overall, are growing older

  • China continued as the top market with 1.3 million visitors (up 5%) and spend of AUD 11.7 billion (up 13%), however, China’s rate of growth has been slowing.
  • New Zealand is still the second largest market with 1.3 million visitors (up 2%), and spend of AUD 2.6 billion (up 4%).
  • Of the remaining top five markets, Japan recorded the strongest growth, with arrivals reaching 434,000 (up 8%) and spend AUD 2 billion (up 11%).
  • The US experienced softer growth, recording 744,000 arrivals (up 1%) and spend of AUD 3.8 billion (up 2%).
  • The UK saw arrivals remaining steady at 688,000, with spend falling to AUD 3.4 billion (down 1%).
  • India continues to be the strongest performing market overall, with arrivals achieving 336,000 (up 18%) and spend AUD 1.7 billion (up 21%).


Above: International visitor numbers and spend by state, year ending December 2018


Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, said the tourism industry in Australia continued to boom.

“These latest results show an extra 425,000 overseas tourists flocked to Australia in the last year and importantly, injected an extra AUD 3.1 billion into the Australian economy.

“In the last year we have seen, what is equivalent to, an extra 1000 jumbos arrive in our airports, full of tourists from around the globe, keen to experience an Australian holiday.

“Whether it is trekking up Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, swimming with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef or four-wheel driving on Fraser Island, international visitors clearly have Australia marked on their bucket list of top tourist destinations.

“Much of this growth continues to be driven by Australia’s key Asian markets, with China maintaining its status as our top market with 1.3 million visitors spending AUD 11.7 billion, an increase of 5% and 13% respectively.

“India continued to be the strongest performing market having recorded double digit spending growth each year since 2014.

“Asia presents an enormous tourism opportunity for Australia thanks to the region’s huge emerging middle class, ever improving aviation capacity and increasingly competitive airfares.

“Within the Chinese market specifically, we are also seeing a noticeable shift towards Free and Independent Travellers (FIT), who are more likely to stay longer, spend more and disperse more widely across regional Australia.

“Tourism Australia continues to execute marketing campaigns that deliberately target these kinds of high value travellers, with a particular focus on encouraging repeat visitation, travel in out of peak periods and encouraging more international visitors to venture out of the cities and explore further afield.

“Earlier this month I launched the Too Australian for Words campaign in China and last year, the UnDiscover Australia campaign in South East Asia; both of which target high value travellers by showcasing unusual, unfamiliar and unexpected attractions and experiences that exist beyond our gateways.

“With 1 in 13 Australians already employed in Australia’s AUD 136 billion tourism industry, these strong results only help to further strengthen our economy and create more jobs for more Australians.”

Written by Peter Needham

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