International visitor numbers fell by 94% to 483,057 in the year to March 2022 as total international and domestic tourism losses since the start of the pandemic reach $156.8 billion.
International visitor spend was down 88.3% to $4.9 billion, while visitor nights were down 85.0% to 38.6 million.
That’s the grim outlook from the latest International Visitor Survey results, which highlight just how far Australia has to go to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Australia’s top five international visitor markets saw significant losses with Chinese visitor numbers falling 98.4%. This was a loss of 1.1 million visitors. Spend fell 95.0% or $9.7 billion.
New Zealand saw the smallest losses of all markets, recording 108,000 visitors. This was 22% of all visitors to Australia for the year ending March 2022. But overall New Zealand visitor numbers fell 91.3%, equating to a loss of 1.1 million visitors. Spend fell 85.4% or $2.1 billion.
USA visitor numbers fell 94.9%, with a loss of 678,000 visitors. Spend fell 90.2% or $3.3 billion.
United Kingdom visitor numbers fell 89.8%, a loss of 572,000, visitors while Japanese visitor numbers fell 98.3%. This was a loss of 418,000 visitors.
International tourism saw losses of $81.9 billion overall for March 2020 to March 2022 due to international border closures caused by the pandemic.
Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley said the numbers highlight the significant loss of capacity and income experienced by the export tourism industry since 2019.
“While there are notionally no barriers to travel, the reality for both traveller and tourism businesses is quite different as a shattered supply system attempts to reconnect and revitalise,” he said.
Shelley said barriers to rebuilding include economy wide issues like staffing, international pressures such as fuel prices and the war in Ukraine as well as Australia’s own bureaucratic systems.
“The length of time to process visa applications for intending international visitors has blown out to an extreme where people are either receiving approval at the 11th hour or even after they were due to depart which is having a direct effect on our desirability in the international market,” he said.
“With so many barriers to travel remaining, Australia must urgently remove any impediments which are within its control.”
During the two years of international border closures, many tourism businesses were forced to shift focus to attracting domestic visitors and have been slow to return to the inbound market.
“It is evident that Australians are once again heading overseas and if we don’t pick up the pace in rebuilding our inbound market, the already significant gap between tourism imports and exports will grow considerably at the expense of the Australian economy,” he said.
“We cannot simply assume that the open border means that travel just automatically bounces back. It is critical that the government invests in export marketing support funding to ensure Australia is globally competitive if we are to see a more positive result in the next issue of the IVS.”