The return of tourists to Australia was still sluggish in October despite the launch of a major ad campaign to entice international visitors.
Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show there were 430,000 “short-term overseas arrivals” in October 2022, 55 per cent of the 774,000 recorded in October 2019.
That was a slight improvement on the 53 per cent comparison recorded in September.
While the number of international arrivals into Australia has been steadily increasing in 2022, very few of those appear to be traditional tourists.
Across the 2021-2022 financial year, for instance, just 18 per cent of those arriving 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 — deterred 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?’”
On Wednesday, Sydney Airport’s chief executive called on international airlines to operate more flights. Geoff Culbert said that while international travel is “ticking up”, numbers are still “lagging behind pre-COVID levels” due to a lack of capacity.
It corroborates data released by the Department of Transport, which shows how the number of international seats for sale – or capacity – is down 45 per cent on pre-pandemic numbers, industry-wide. It has meant that international flights are now jam-packed with 90 per cent of seats full, in what is likely to be one of the highest occupancy rates in history.
Tourism Australia bosses will hope its latest campaign, launched in October, will make a difference over time. The ads feature Ruby the souvenir kangaroo, voiced by Australian actress Rose Byrne, best known for her role in the film Bridesmaids.