The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just been released giving the full picture of where Australians travelled in 2019. The data source is the ABS figures for the number of Australian residents returning from short-term visits overseas. Those figures are compiled from the Department of Home Affairs' Travel and Immigration Processing System (TRIPS). "Short-term" in this context means overseas travel of less that one year.
In 2019, 11.3 million Australian residents returned from short-term trips overseas. That's an increase of 2.2 per cent on the previous year, but a slowing of the momentum in overseas travel. In 2018 there was a 5 per cent increase in the number of Australians returning from overseas trips from the previous year. For 2017, the increase was 5.6 per cent over the 2016 figures.
The top 10 countries we love most has not changed, but the order has. China, Japan and India all advanced one spot, Thailand has slipped one while Singapore is down two places.
New Zealand still sits in the number one spot with Aussie travellers, but for how long? Although 1.43 million Australian residents returned from a break over the Tasman in 2019, that number has been relatively static over the past few years, and the second place favourite is snapping at its heels.
In 2019 1.4 million Australian residents visited Indonesia – read Bali. That's just 2.4 per cent fewer than the number visiting New Zealand, and a 9.5 per cent rise on the 2018 figure. With that rate of increase Indonesia could storm into the lead as our most favoured destination in 2020 but coronavirus might play a role here, dampening enthusiasm for travel to Bali and sparking renewed appetite for clean, green New Zealand.
The number of Australians returning from Indonesia was 5 per cent less in 2017 than in 2018, but rather than a cooling off in our long-standing love affair with the island of the gods that turned out to be only a pause. That was the only year in the past decade in which fewer Australians returned from visits to Indonesia than in the previous year.
The number of Australians travelling to the USA stuttered in 2019. It's still a hugely popular destination, consistently number three on the list of countries we most like to visit, but 3.5 per cent fewer Australians visited the USA in 2019 than the year before. By contrast the number of Aussies visiting Canada rose by just over 1 per cent in 2019. At the beginning of 2019 one Aussie dollar would buy you 70 US cents. Throughout that year our dollar slid toward the current rate of just over 66 cents but previous falls in our currency against the US dollar have not blunted our affection for travel to that country.
The Australian love affair with Japan continues. Over 522,000 Australian residents returned from a short visit to Japan in 2019, a rise of over 13 per cent on 2018 figures. On the list of 10 most popular countries for Australian travellers no other country came within coo-ee of that figure and Japan is now just 15,000 Australian visitors behind Thailand.
Japan was no doubt helped by a boost in visitors for the Rugby World Cup and will likely see a similar boost this year with the Tokyo Olympics.
After a powerhouse performance over the last few years the rate of increase in the number Australians visiting China is slowing. After a steep rise in 2018, up 9 per cent on the previous year, the number of Australians returning from China grew by just over 2 per cent in 2019. Expect that figure to crash in 2020 with the impact of the coronavirus.
Another 8.5 per cent more Australian residents visited India in 2019 than the previous year, which is about the same rate of increase from 2017 to 2018. Impressive as it is, that represents a slowing of the momentum compared with the previous few years when double digit growth was the norm from one year to the next. Despite that impetus, the only Australian cities connected to India with non-stop flights are Melbourne and Sydney, aboard Air India, and only to Delhi. Qantas is not showing any interest, citing low yields and a fragmented market in a presentation to investors late in 2019.
In 2019 another 4 per cent more Australian residents returned from visits to Iran than in 2018. It's not a huge number, just 20,100 total for the year, but for all the sanctions, invective and general tantrums directed at Iran, and the country's civil unrest, Australians were not deterred.
But coronavirus? that's going to be a different story. Expect fewer Australians to travel overseas in 2020, and collateral damage to spread well beyond the borders of China.
Top 10 countries visited by Australians in 2019
1. New Zealand