Cheap fares see foreign tourist numbers surge

Australia's tourism is booming.
Australia's tourism is booming. Photo: Angela Wylie

FOREIGN tourists are travelling to Australia in record numbers despite the high dollar, a trend the tourism industry is attributing partly to an increase in flights by budget airlines and cheap fares.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the number of people travelling here rose by 0.8 per cent in November, compared with October.

On a year ago, international arrivals were up 6.9 per cent.

Australians are also continuing to travel overseas en masse with the number of people flying abroad for holidays or business rising by 2.5 per cent in November.

For the year to November, almost 8.18 million Australians travelled overseas - an all-time high.

Chinese visitors rose by about 14 per cent in November, from the same month in 2011, while Malaysian and Thai tourists increased by 35 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. China is now Australia's second-largest source of foreign tourists.

The industry's peak body, the Tourism and Transport Forum, said an increase in flights by airlines such as Malaysia's AirAsia and Singapore's Scoot, cheap fares and marketing campaigns, had helped to boost the growth in visitor numbers from Asian countries.

China's largest airlines have made substantial increases in flights to Australia over the past two years.

Despite the high Australian dollar, traditional source markets also improved in November - visitors from the US and Japan rose by almost 9 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Although British visitors rose by 3.4 per cent in November, they were down almost 5 per cent for the year to November 2012, compared with the previous year. TTF blamed the fall in British tourists over the year on "excessive aviation taxes".

The country's airports have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the surge in overseas visitors and the flight of Australians to foreign destinations. In contrast, airlines have not fared as well, as strong competition on many routes eats away at their earnings.

In other developments, Virgin Australia experienced minor teething problems on its first day of a new booking and reservations system.

The airline's head of corporate affairs, Danielle Keighery, said it had some delays of up to 40 minutes at Sydney Airport on Monday but on a network-wide basis the switch to Sabre's global distribution system had "gone reasonably well".

"While we have had some delays across the network, they have been minimal. We haven't had to cancel flights," she said.

Passengers experienced problems logging into Virgin's website on Monday but the problem was resolved. So far, the biggest challenge has been a large increase in the number of passengers turning up at Virgin's counters at airports because they could not access the airline's website to check in.

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