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Exclusive: Tourist numbers well down despite end of COVID rules

written by Adam Thorn | November 30, 2022

Victor Pody shot this Emirates A380

Tourists are failing to return to Australia in great numbers despite months without COVID-19 restrictions, Australian Aviation can reveal.

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show there were 370,000 “short-term overseas arrivals” in September 2022, compared to 695,000 in September 2019.

However, across the 2021-2022 financial year, just 18 per cent of those listed their reason for coming to the country as being to holiday, compared to 56 per cent who cited visiting friends or relatives.

The data appears to corroborate the observation made by Adelaide Airport’s MD, Brenton Cox, on the Australian Aviation Podcast.

“Right now, probably most of the people coming from overseas are doing so to visit friends and relatives, or for essential business,” he said. “The big free, independent travellers haven’t quite made their way here yet.”


Cox said he believed Australia’s COVID-19 response — which saw state borders open and close and a high-profile incident involving Novak Djokovic — deter casual visitors.

“I just remember looking at the scenes when Djokovic was being booted out of the Australian Open. And at that moment, you went, ‘Wow, it’s a lot of eyeballs on this.’

“And there are a lot of people who — similar to the state border risk — thought, ‘Well, if I come to this country, am I going to be trapped? Or am I going to be stuck in a detention centre?’”

Australian Aviation has previously reported BITRE figures released by the Department of Transport that continue to show international aviation’s sluggish bounce back from the pandemic.

In September, 2,095,503 passengers travelled through the country — 40 per cent lower than the 3,496,774 passengers registered in the same month in 2019. The numbers are though 5 per cent better relatively than August.

There were 2,398,759 seats for sale, but that was well down on the 4,307,590 available in 2019.

Those numbers, though, will include returning Australian residents alongside longer-term migration arrivals.

Cox also used a previous appearance at the Australian Airports Association Conference to call on the federal government to pass laws to stop states from shutting their borders in the event of another pandemic.

“The past few years conditioned us to think that closing state borders is normal — it is not normal,” he said.

“We all know that aviation was impacted more than most industries globally thanks to border closures and travel restrictions, but most people thought that our Australian aviation experience was shared elsewhere — it was not. We were unique in how we splintered.

“Even New Zealand, with its draconian policies, was significantly better off. New Zealand does not have states. But it also chose, for example, not to cut off the North from the South Island.

“Nearly as many people were flying between countries in Europe as within Australia.

“Aviation was smashed globally but no more so than here. The fact we are now operating at a service quality and capacity level half as well as we are now is some sort of miracle.”

The lack of visitors comes despite Tourism Australia launching a new $125 million ‘Ruby the Roo’ global push to entice international visitors in October.

The new ‘Come and say G’day’ campaign features Australian actress Rose Byrne as Ruby the Roo and Arrested Development actor Will Arnett as a toy unicorn.

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Comments (2)

  • AJ


    CPI index is at an all time high. Australia is currently too expensive.

  • Martin


    With all respect, that’s a cover-up bullshit excuse about Djokovic from the manager in aviation industry. Overseas tourists are not coming, mostly because of the cost. Firstly, people have less money to spare (energy prices in Europe are crazy high, plus overall inflation). Secondly (and being the decision factor for all I’ve heard), flights to Australia are fewer and heaps more expensive, compared to other destinations. N times more than it was before covid. It would have to be several months holiday trip to justify the expensive flight cost, unless purchased in the beginning of year 2022 for the 2022/23 Australian summer. Considering Australia is not really cheap destination compared to eg SE Asia, there we go. Given tighter budgets, people opt for other destinations for their holidays where the overall cost is lower. (Also guessing backpackers postpone their dream round-Australia roadtrip for better times…)
    The other factor is, there is delayed demand from domestic travellers to fly to overseas. Immigrants and other people with families and friends in their home countries simply want to see their close ones after the 2 years of pretty much total travel in Australia.
    Obviously, it was not easy times for the aviation industry during covid. They had to sack many loyal employees who went for good and are not really willing to come back. Recruiting skilled staff in Aviation takes time and money. That is why there is shortage of flights and why prices are so high.

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