Before the fall; tourism numbers at record high before Covid-19

Australia saw record numbers of international visitors for the year to December 2019 with 8.7 million arrivals, a more than 2 per cent increase on the previous year.

This supported a 3 per cent rise in total trip spend, which reached a record $45.4 billion.

That was before Covid-19.

Australian tourism exports have delivered more than $350 billion to our economy over the past 10 years. This is export income Australia will not see again for a number of years, according to the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC).

“Today’s International Visitor Survey results released by the Government are a snapshot of where we were right before tragedy hit our tourism industry in January 2020,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.

“Remember these figures, sadly they are the best we will see for some time.

“Shift forward to April 2020 and we see an industry devastated by COVID-19 with mass job shedding, business closures, hibernation, dislocation of the export channel and an industry desperately trying to hold on till we get to the other side.

“While Australia’s domestic tourism sector may revive in the coming months, it’s likely international tourism will be much slower and longer to rebuild and our growth will be greatly handicapped on the other side.”

An ATEC survey of 500 industry members showed 49 per cent of respondents believe New Zealand will be the first international market to re-engage, followed by China (26 per cent ) with traditional markets of Europe, the UK and US expected to be the last to return to our shores.

Western Australia saw visitors spend a record $11 billion in 2019, an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year.

Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said the earliest opportunity for WA tourism businesses to recover would likely be through the intrastate market.

“The key to a tourism economic recovery, particularly regionally, is when Western Australians can start travelling within the State once more,” Hall said.

“The industry understands that public health is everyone’s priority and the restrictions are necessary to protect our communities.

“Ideally, we’d like to be back in business providing great experiences for Western Australians and creating local jobs before the JobKeeper subsidies run out.”

A recent industry survey revealed 57 per cent of WA businesses had ceased operations and gone into “hibernation”, with 42 per cent still trading but with drastically reduced operations.

“We need tourism businesses to survive so that they can start operations and create local jobs when it is once again safe for Western Australians to travel within the State,” said Hall.

The Gold Coast also saw a record number of visitors last year, before the impact of the coronavirus on travel. A total of 14.2 million visitors came to the Gold Coast in the 12 months to December, an increase of 13.5 per cent.

“At a minimum, Covid-19 has already cost Gold Coast’s tourism sector $1 billion, a figure that will increase by at least $310 million every month,” said Destination Gold Coast CEO Annaliese Battista.

“At a time when the future of Gold Coast’s economy is so uncertain, we must draw strength and reassurance that the tourism sector will lead the local economy to recovery.

“Our number one priority as a city, after the immediate threat to our community’s health is neutralised, is to kick-start the recovery of the Gold Coast’s main economic driver to ensure our city bounces back fast.”