Overseas travel booms as locals shun home

WHERE the bloody hell are you? If you're an Australian on holidays, probably in Bali. Maybe in Auckland. Perhaps on the Inca trail in South America, or lying on a beach in Thailand, or sitting at a cafe in Berlin or London. Wherever it is, you're probably not here.

Australians made a record 8 million overseas trips in the year to June, 80 per cent of them as tourists or to visit friends and family. In just five years, the Bureau of Statistics reports, the numbers of trips we make overseas has swelled by almost 3 million or 57 per cent - while the number of foreign visitors coming here has risen just 340,000 or 6 per cent.

We made more than a million trips to New Zealand, took almost a million holidays in Indonesia, paid more than 800,000 visits to the US, and 600,000 to Thailand. On top of that, we made 1.23 million trips to Europe - mostly to the continent, not Britain - more than a million trips to other Asian destinations, 603,000 to South Pacific islands, and more than half a million trips to other places from India to Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

With the high dollar now giving Australians almost double the buying power overseas that they had a decade ago, an annual trip overseas is becoming part of the lifestyle of millions of people who would once have holidayed at home.

It's not hard to see why the Queensland economy is hurting. In a decade, excluding spending by students, Australians' spending on overseas travel has swollen by $14.7 billion or 144 per cent, while foreign tourists' spending here has gone backwards, shrinking by $154 million.

Queensland has been the big loser. Last year, compared to five years earlier, 114,000 fewer foreign visitors spent most of their time in Queensland, whereas 306,000 more spent most of their time in Victoria, and 120,000 more focused their time on WA.

Victoria has been the big winner, and its run continued in 2011-12. Last year the state hosted 1.27 million foreign visitors (including students, who account for almost half of all spending by foreign visitors), up from 756,500 a decade earlier. It accounted for more than 75 per cent of the growth in visitor numbers, in line with trends since the middle of last decade.

In a decade, visitors to Australia from China have more than trebled, from 172,000 in 2001-02 to 583,000 in 2011-12. In recent months, China has overtaken Britain to become Australia's second biggest source of visitors, after New Zealand. In the past decade, China and New Zealand each account for roughly a third of the net growth in visitor numbers.

Visitors from India (including students) have also trebled, providing our third biggest growth market, with Malaysia fourth. The only other countries to generate any significant increase in tourism to Australia over the decade are Indonesia, France, the US and the United Arab Emirates.

But visitors from Japan almost halved in the same decade, from 659,000 to 344,500, as the rising dollar and word of mouth from poor travel experiences sent Japanese tourists elsewhere, especially to China. Visitors from Britain also fell by 30,000 over the decade, thanks to the high dollar.