Back in fashion: Aussies' record spend on holidays at home

Australians' love affair with overseas travel could be coming to an end according to Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy.

Mr McEvoy was commenting on figures released yesterday showing that Aussies spent a record $50 billion on domestic travel in the past 12 months, an increase of 10.4 per cent on the previous year.

The number of domestic overnight trips has also risen, by 5 per cent to 73.3 million (an overnight trip is defined as staying away from home for at least one night and more than 40 kilometres from home).

The figures, from the latest national visitor survey by Tourism Research Australia, were welcomed by Tourism Australia.

"Australians are coming to the end of their love affair with everywhere else in the world and re-discovering how good their own country is," he said.

John Lee, the chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said the figures are proof that the industry is fighting back. But he warned that a recovery is at risk from new taxes.

"There will be the carbon tax from July 1, which will be compounded by an increase in the departure tax, which will hit international visitors transferring to domestic flights.

"Finally, major airports will also have to pay for Australian Federal Police presence, despite taxpayers having already paid for policing."

Mr Lee said the growth in domestic tourism is not spread evenly across states.

"Queensland figures are especially strong relative to the state's disastrous first quarter of 2011 (due to flooding), while the apparent boom in West Australian traffic reflects the boom in that state's mining sector."

Charlie Carlow, the CEO of Wild Bush Luxury that operates high-end properties Bamurru Plains in the Northern Territory, Sal Salis in Western Australia and Arkaba Station in South Australia says he has seen an upturn in domestic visitors at his properties. "It's not massive but it has been very definitely up since late last year.

"We have found the last couple of years hard going. Not only have Australians been going overseas but international visitors have been staying away because of the strong dollar and the perception that Australia is up there in expense with Norway."

Jervis Bay's Dolphin Watch Cruises has been in business for 22 years and general manager Matt Cross says the company provides a barometer to local tourism.

"We have been through it all, from SARS to September 11, to swine flu, bird flu, tsunamis and 15 per cent interest rates," he says.

"Times have been tough. The cost of electricity, cost of fuel and cost of everything going up stagnated the economy and now that we see the easing of interest rates the easing of the dollar I think domestic travel is much more appealing.

"I've never seen so many forward bookings for the September to November period."

Mr McEvoy said the lowering of airfares through fierce competition between domestic airlines and investment in tourism infrastructure had helped stem the trend of Australians holidaying overseas.

"You can see that quality is improving. There has been investment and re-investment across Australia, from Crown in Melbourne and Perth, Star in Sydney, the Federal Group that has properties such as Saffire in Tasmania (a luxury lodge), the Queensland islands and many developments on the Gold Coast.

"We need to continue to focus on quality and service but the states and territories have also become competitive with major events and Australians are reacting to that.

"Victoria is the king (with events such as the Australian Open tennis and the Grand Prix)  but NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia are stepping up and providing Australian consumers with more triggers to visit."

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