Backpackers and students buoy Qld international tourist market

By: Chris Smith

Foreign backpackers and students are underpinning Queensland’s international visitor market during the global economic crisis new figures released today have

Foreign backpackers and students are underpinning Queensland’s international visitor market during the global economic crisis new figures released today have revealed.

Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes says the latest Tourism Research Australia International Visitor Survey for the year ended December 2008 revealed that while visitor numbers to Queensland decreased 5.6 percent to just over two million, expenditure and nights were up.

"International visitors spent $4 billion in Queensland during 2008, nine percent more than during the previous year, and stayed 40.6 million nights, up 12 percent on last year," Hayes says.

"Much of this increase can be credited to backpackers and foreign students, who - although only making up 18 and five percent of international visitors, respectively – typically stay a lot longer and spend more overall on their trip than others."

Hayes says 362,000 backpackers and 99,000 foreign students came to Queensland during 2008, increases of two and nine percent respectively.

The number of nights backpackers stayed increased by 11 percent to 13.5 million, while foreign students stayed 10.3 million nights – 30 percent more than in 2007.

Backpackers stayed more than twice as long as the average visitor – spending around 37 nights in Queensland compared to 16 for non-backpackers, while foreign students stayed an average of 104 nights in Queensland.

European and Canadian backpacker numbers were particularly strong with 40,000 Germans (up 8 percent), 21,000 Scandanavians (up 5 percent), 19,000 Canadians (up 12 percent), 17,000 French (up 21 percent) and 10,000 Dutch (up 11 percent) visiting Queensland during 2008.

Working holiday-makers were also up 13 percent in number and 18 percent in nights, with working holiday visa holders making up 12 percent of all international visitor nights to Queensland.

"The decrease in the Aussie dollar means that backpackers can stretch their money further – so they are staying longer in Australia and travelling more widely, often to destinations they would not otherwise have visited," Hayes says.

He said for example, 133,000 backpackers had visited the Gold Coast during 2008 (up 3 percent); 239,000 visited Brisbane (up 6 percent); 106,000 visited the Sunshine Coast (up 3 percent); 14,000 visited the Outback (up 8 percent); 58,000 visited Central Queensland (up 2 percent); and 31,000 visited Gladstone (up 7 percent).

Other destinations such as the Whitsundays and Fraser Coast, saw a slight two percent decrease in backpackers to 141,000 and 133,000 respectively.

Hayes says the overall decrease in the number of international visitors during 2008 was largely attributable to the ongoing fall in the Japan market, which dropped 23 percent to 271,000 and a three percent decline in the UK market to 251,000. Both markets had been heavily impacted by the global economic crisis.

On the flipside, international visitors who did come to Queensland, stayed longer and spent more, with nights increasing by 12 percent to 40.6 million – double the increase of the national average.

European (excluding UK) holidaymakers were particularly strong, with 263,000, growing five percent over the year, and 41,000 more since 2005.

"Europeans travel the widest, with most making between four and seven stopovers in Queensland," he says.

"They are independent travellers who will often hire a vehicle and visit a whole range of smaller destinations which makes them our ideal international visitor.

"We have seen a change from these groups simply flying from one destination to another to undertaking a combination fly/drive holiday."

Hayes claims the impact of low-cost airlines also continued to be felt with Malaysian visitors up 41 percent to 41,000 thanks to direct AirAsia X flights into Queensland.

Buoyed by the education market, India continued to perform strongly – with 32,000 Indians spending 1.1 million nights in Queensland.

The global economic crisis impacted the New Zealand market however, which decreased six percent to 409,000 and the China market, which dropped 18 percent to 132,000.

On a regional basis, Brisbane saw a slight one percent decline in visitors to 897,000, but a significant 31 percent increase in visitor nights to 16.7 million and a 28 percent increase in expenditure to $1.4 billion, thanks largely to the foreign student market, which grew significantly during 2008 as 61,000 students spent 6.8 million nights in Brisbane – increases of 24 percent and 45 percent respectively.

International visitors to the Gold Coast dropped seven percent to 795,000, however nights increased 10 percent to 8.2 million and expenditure increased by nine percent to just over $1 billion.

Tropical North Queensland also saw a 10 percent drop in international visitors to 757,000, plus a seven percent drop in both nights (to 6.4 million) and a three percent drop in expenditure (to $1 billion).

"Much of the decline in the Tropical North Queensland market is due to the continuing decline in Japanese visitors, which are the region’s largest international market and dropped 20 percent to 163,000," he says.

"However, the New Zealand and German markets showed good growth with 43,000 Kiwis visiting last year, up 8 percent, and 50,000 Germans, up 6 percent."

The Sunshine Coast also recorded a three percent decline in international visitors to 279,000, a seven percent drop in nights to 2.3 million and an 11 percent drop in expenditure to $185 million.

The news was also less positive for the Whitsundays, Fraser Coast and Townsville with the three destinations seeing a 2 percent drop in international visitors to 220,000, 200,000 and 145,000 respectively.

The good news for the Whitsundays however was that those who came spent more, with expenditure increasing by 6 percent to $135 million.

"These are tough times for all in the tourism industry and while overall visitor numbers are down, the promising news is that those who are coming are, overall, staying longer and spending more," Hayes says.

"Tourism Queensland and the State Government are committed to assisting our industry through a range of initiatives such as the Best Job in the World global campaign, which has done an amazing job of increasing Queensland’s profile internationally.

"While the initial focus of this campaign is to raise Queensland’s profile internationally, particularly the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, we are now starting to move into the secondary phase of working with our overseas trade partners to develop initiatives that will turn that awareness into real bookings."

Hayes says Tourism Queensland and the State Government would also continue to work with key airlines to encourage new carriers into Queensland, particularly from Asian hubs.

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