AUSTRALIA is back in favour with international tourists with overseas visitors flocking here in numbers not seen since before the Sydney Olympics.
Short-term arrivals in the year to August compared with the previous 12 months show double-digit growth in tourists travelling here from Malaysia, China and India.
Visitors also swarmed to Australia from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan with an overall increase in short-term arrivals of 8.2 per cent.
Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan said 538,800 people arrived for a short-term visit in August.
“We haven’t seen these sorts of international arrivals numbers since the days of the Sydney 2000 Olympics,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
“What’s especially pleasing is that we’re seeing strong performances across the board, from our traditional Western markets as well as the newer, emerging Eastern markets that are now very much part of today’s Australian tourism story.”
CommSec senior analyst Craig James said the growth in Chinese tourists was nothing short of staggering.
“In just under four years, the annual number of Chinese tourists to Australia has doubled and if the current growth rates keep up, China will surpass New Zealand as our primary source of tourists in around five years time,” Mr James said.
“The other important development is that overall tourist arrivals are growing just shy of the fastest pace in 14-years no doubt boosted by the improvement in the global economy.”
Looking forward, the fall in the Australian dollar would drive further tourism inflows, and help the domestic sector, said Mr James.
“The cheaper currency should over time make it more attractive to travel within Australia rather than overseas — although it will take some time yet to make a significant dent in the tourism deficit,” he said.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive officer Margy Osmond welcomed the figures but said they highlighted the massive opportunity Australia was missing due to barriers such as visa requirements and taxes.
“So far this year, the number of Chinese tourists going to Canada has grown by more than 30 per cent while the US has seen growth of 23 per cent,” said Ms Osmond.
“This is a clear indication that Australia needs reform to make it easier for Chinese visitors to come here.”
She said independent travellers from China wanting an Australia visa had to pay $130, fill out a 15-page application in English and wait 15-days for processing.
“By contrast a potential visitor from the US, the UK or even Hong Kong can simply fill in a quick online form and receive an electronic visa for $20,” Ms Osmond said.
“Reducing the cost and complexity of our visa system will improve Australia’s competitiveness.”