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Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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If it’s good for Oprah and Ellen... inbound rebound lifts hope for tourism

Published 10 April 2013 11:31, Updated 11 April 2013 06:38

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If it’s good for Oprah and Ellen... inbound rebound lifts hope for tourism

Star power: The highly-publicised visit of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi to Australia in March helped lift the profile of Australia as a tourist destination in the US market. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The “Oprah and Ellen effect”, combined with the improving US dollar is luring more international tourists back to Australian shores, with the number of foreign tourists entering the country growing at the same rate as the number of Aussies heading overseas for their holidays, according to numbers released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

For the first time in nearly a decade, international arrivals grew by 4.9 per cent to the 12 months to February 28, the same growth rate as Australians travelling overseas.

The Lunar New Year drove a record number of Chinese arrivals in February, according to Tourism & Transport Forum acting chief executive Trent Zimmerman. More than 110,000 Chinese visitors landed in Australia during February, according to the ABS figures.

“Chinese visitors accounted for almost one in five of all international visitors to Australia in February, underscoring the importance of Chinese New Year to our tourism industry and the value of investing in events which attract those visitors,” Zimmerman says.

In addition to China, the number of visitors from traditional incoming tourism markets, such as the US and Japan are also increasing. Tourist numbers from the US were up almost 6 per cent and Japanese visitors increased 4.2 per cent for the year. This, according to Zimmerman, is largely thanks to long-term investments in marketing and promotional campaigns, such as LA’s G’day USA event and US talkshow queen Oprah’s subsidised trip with her fans to Australia in 2010.

Welcome trend for top resorts

For luxury resorts such as Bob Oatley’s Qualia located on tropical Hamilton Island, the trend provides welcome relief to the conditions of the past few years, where foreign tourism all but dried up. Initially the $110 million resort was pitched at wealthy foreign travellers. However Qualia general manager Michael Shahtold BRW last year that the resort’s management soon recognised the need to modify its strategy to appeal to honeymooners, cashed-up professionals and baby boomers as well as foreign travellers in order to succeed.

At the end of 2012, 60 per cent of Qualia’s guests were Australian and 40 per cent were from overseas. Management initially predicted the opposite but the high Australian dollar has dissuaded overseas travellers from coming to Australia.

“We are yet to see what the true international guest profile capacity has been. At 10 years we might be able to see that more clearly,” Shah says.

TTF’s Zimmerman says the rise in international visitors could also indicate a recovery for the domestic tourism market in the near future.

“The moderation in growth of outbound travel by Australians is a further indication that Australians have adjusted to the strong Australian dollar as the new normal.

We hope that this will translate into a continuation of the recovery in domestic tourism, which accounts for around 70 per cent of expenditure in Australia’s visitor economy,” Zimmerman says.

Further reading: What sets Hamilton Island apart? The Oatley family

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