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Regional business & tourism travel recovered to 96% of pre-pandemic levels

Data reveals regional business flights are 10.5% higher than pre-pandemic & Top 10 regional routes booked by businesses in 2022 are...

Data analysed by a leading Australian travel management provider for SMEs has revealed a growing proportion of businesses are seeking regional routes in their travel.

In the year to December 31, 2022, regional flight bookings were 10.5 percent higher than in 2019 with Queensland regions landing in eight of the top 10 destinations. The data was derived from regional business flight bookings via Flight Centre Corporate.

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Tom Walley, Australian-based Global Managing Director at Corporate Traveller, said: “It’s promising to see the increase in businesses travel to regional Australia in the last 12 months.

By the end of the 2022 financial year, the regional tourism industry recovered to 96 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, while the population in regional Australia has increased rapidly in the last two years and is predicted to continue growing –10.5 million people are forecasted to be living outside our major capital cities by 2032.

“I anticipate we’ll continue seeing an uptick in businesses travelling regionally this year and beyond, as the promising growth of many regional communities will likely bring with it increased investment in infrastructure, technology, tourism, transport and housing that will prove rewarding for businesses.”

Photo of Brisbane Airport by Nick Sarvari on Unsplash

Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff says: “This data underscores what an essential hub Brisbane Airport is for Queensland and our role in supporting regional economies.

“BNE is Australia’s most connected domestic airport, with connections to 53 towns and cities, 30 of them in Queensland. These services enable the tourism, resources and agricultural sectors and the dispatch of high-value exports to global markets. Importantly, they connect Queenslanders to the world and communities with each other.” 

Queensland dominated the top 10 regional business routes 

The travel booking data also uncovered the top 10 regional routes booked by businesses in 2022. Regional routes from Brisbane proved popular, with six out of 10 of the top routes travelling from the major capital city. Queensland regions took out eight spots out of the 10 placings.

The top regional routes ranked:

  1. Brisbane-Mackay
  2. Perth-Kalgoorlie
  3. Brisbane-Rockhampton
  4. Brisbane-Townsville
  5. Brisbane-Moranbah
  6. Brisbane-Emerald
  7. Brisbane-Cairns
  8. Sydney-Gold Coast
  9. Melbourne-Gold Coast
  10. Perth-Port Hedland

Tom says Queensland is a stand-out destination for regional business travel thanks to its population boom over the last couple of years.

“Of all the states and territories, Queensland had the highest population growth rate in the year to June 2022, at two per cent. This is higher than Australia’s average growth of 1.1 percent in the same period. Interstate migration was the major contributor.” 

The growth has created strong house prices, rents, and business activity, and includes regional Queensland. While the growth of property values has reversed across the country, Queensland house prices are still faring better than in other states and remain well above pre-COVID values. Across Australia, regional migration is still 30 percent higher than before the pandemic.

AdobeStock By gustavofrazao

Tom says: “The interstate migration to Queensland has included business owners and employees relocating to regional areas, prompting businesses to shift to remote and hybrid working models, at least for some valued employees. Some businesses may also have chosen to open ‘satellite’ offices in regional areas for their staff.

“The regions that topped the list of business flight routes in our ranking have also undergone recent promising growth. For instance, Mackay, which placed first, is among Queensland’s highest growing locations in the state’s property market – prices increased by 7.4 percent in the year to January 31, 2023.

“Other regions that also appeared in our top 10 list have also seen strong property growth, with property prices in Townsville increasing by 6.4 percent and 5.5 percent in Cairns. Cairns has also seen an 11 percent year-on-year increase in rental yields.”

Tom says more regions are also home to several industry hubs. “In Mackay, its Resources Centre of Excellence, which offers regular training programs and spaces for businesses to hire for events, workshops, and meetings, will see $5.7 million injected into its training and business incubation services over the next three years.

“Cairns also boasts the major events venue Cairns Convention Centre, that recently underwent a significant expansion. The Cairns Marine Precinct is also a popular hub for the tourism, fishing, shipping, and cruising yacht sectors, which is also set to undergo a $150 million expansion.”

Ranking of top five industries travelling to regional destinations

Corporate Traveller also ranked the industries that have grown their travel to regional areas, against 2019 regional business bookings. While the mining, Government and construction industries continued to top the list, the accommodation and food services and manufacturing industries also frequently sought regional areas in their travel.

Top industries travelling regionally, ranked:

  • Mining
  • Government
  • Construction
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Manufacturing

Tom says: “With Australia’s significant increase in mining exports, it’s no wonder the mining industry topped the list – and I expect to see the industry continue to lead all business sectors flying to regional areas this year.” Export earnings in commodities reached a record $422 billion in the 2022 financial year and is forecast to reach $450 billion this financial year.

“Supply chain disruptions in the last couple of years likely led many businesses to localise operations, such as manufacturing. In fact, several manufacturing hubs have emerged in the regions on our list, including Cairns, Townsville, and Rockhampton, suggesting they’re promising areas of growth for the manufacturing industry.

“The bounceback in regional tourism may also be driving more businesses in the accommodation and food services industry to travel regionally to expand into fast-growing communities.”

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