September in-bound/outbound figures show gap widening

The imbalance between Australians heading overseas and incoming tourists is at an all-time high.

The tourism deficit – the difference between international arrivals and overseas departures – hit a record of 360,000 travellers in September.

Australia’s outbound travel boom shows no sign of abating with a 10.2% increase in the number of Australians (665,000) travelling overseas in September 2011 compared with September 2010, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A high dollar combined with the economic woes in Europe and the US cut international visitors in September by 9% to 432,200 while the number of Australians heading overseas jumped 8.9% on last year to 790,600.

Inbound tourism remains a worry with most of Australia’s top 10 inbound markets dropping; Malaysia was down 28%, Japan and New Zealand dropped 21%, the Americas fell 3.7% and North West Europe slipped 3.5%.

Notably going against the trend were China (up 18.6%) and India (up 12.1%).

Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive John Lee said the deficit for the first nine months of the year stood at more than 1.5 million people. “This is slowly but surely going to mean that thousands of jobs are going to be lost in this country.”

Mr Lee said that while other industries have received “hundreds of millions of dollars” in handouts, tourism “has been left to its own devices” – the car, steel and cattle sectors getting huge government assistance. This was despite the fact tourism employed three times as many workers as the three sectors combined.

Mr Lee said it was not enough to shuffle budgets around from one market to another but to at least maintain its presence in all countries and “ramp up our promotion, advertising and engagement campaigns in the near-world countries which are showing growth”

Tourism minister Martin Ferguson defended the government’s record, saying “governments will spend $600 million marketing Australia domestically and internationally this year alone to help further stimulate private-sector spending, including in rapid-growth markets such as China,” he said.

Mr Ferguson said the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy was concentrating on providing the sector with the tools it needs to grow through practical measures. He blamed a range of global events, including natural disasters, Ramadan falling in August that weighed on arrivals from key markets such as Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand as being critical factors in the September arrival figures.

Tourism Australia may be aggressively targeting Asia as key growth markets but Europe and the US haven’t fallen off the radar altogether, Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy has insisted.

Mr McEvoy said Australia has been recognised as the best country to visit at this year’s British Travel Awards. Trumping Spain and Italy as popular tourist destinations, the “Best Country to Visit Worldwide” award shows Australia “hasn’t lost any of its lustre with the Brits”, Mr McEvoy said.

“This award demonstrates Australia’s enduring appeal as a dream destination,” he said. “It proves that while Australia might be far away for many Brits, it is definitely still top of mind.”

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