Did the traditional favourites continue to shine or are there new players stealing some of their gloss? All the answers are revealed in the latest statistics on Overseas Arrivals and Departures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has just released the full set of figures for 2017.
The relevant figures are those relating to the number of short-term residents returning from overseas. This might seem a roundabout way to work out where Australians are travelling but now that outgoing passenger cards are no longer part of the process of departing from our shores, the most easily available source of this information is the incoming passenger card which all travellers entering Australia must complete.
Among other questions, the card asks residents returning to Australia to name the "Country where you spent most time abroad", and this is the raw data source that the ABS uses to compile these statistics. A traveller returning from Europe might have visited several countries, as might one returning from South-East Asia or South America, and therefore the figures are not a complete picture but they do at least give a fair indication of what's hot and what's not.
The top 10 countries visited by Australians in 2017
- New Zealand
Among the most popular destinations, visitor numbers to China soared by over 15 per cent, cresting the half million mark for the first time. One reason is the ever-increasing penetration of China-based airlines into Australian airports, currently a total of six airlines, offering services between most of our capital cities and some of China's regional cities as well as the major gateways of Shanghai and Beijing, at rock-bottom fares.
India also experienced a healthy growth spurt, attracting 14.2 per cent more Australian residents in 2017 over 2016, to a total of 362,300. Air India is the only airline to offer non-stop flights from Australia to India, from Melbourne and Sydney to Delhi. That suggests factors other than easy access are at play, and perhaps an increasing appreciation of the ever more comfortable experience that await the traveller in India.
New Zealand continues to occupy the podium position as the number one destination for Australian residents, with 1.42 million visits in 2017, a rise of almost 6 per cent over the previous year. New Zealanders resident in Australia make up a big percentage of those visitors, however New Zealand shines bright in any traveller's book of earthly wonders.
The number of Australians visiting Indonesia, for many years our second most popular destination, fell by 5 per cent. We're still there in big numbers, 1.18 million in 2017, but it's a sign that Australians are finally turning away from Bali, which by itself is the country's number one drawcard, and the single reason that most Australians travel to Indonesia.
See also: Why Australians keep going back to Bali
Thailand, the other big South-East Asian destination popular with travellers looking for a similar resort-style holiday to Bali's, welcomed 582,000 Australians in 2017, a rise of 6.2 per cent over 2016, and further indication of Bali's slump.
The USA was another of the major destinations popular with Australian travellers that experienced a fall. The drop was just 0.5 per cent but this should be seen against the backdrop of an increase of 5.6 per cent in the total number of Australian short-term residents returning from overseas in 2017 over the previous year, after a decade of continuous and significant growth. The figure for the USA is possibly yet more evidence of the Trump slump, although nothing like the drop in the number of travellers from the rest of the world who visited the USA in 2017, down around 4 per cent from 2016.
By contrast, the number of Australians travelling to Canada boomed in 2017, rising by over 20 per cent on the 2016 total. The USA still gets far more Australian visitors, 1.08 million in 2017, against Canada's 176,000, yet the new-found enthusiasm for Canada at the expense of the is part of a general trend that a trend that is causing angst in the US travel industry.
Among the minor league players, the number of Australians visiting Sri Lanka surged by almost 15 per cent to 91,500. SriLankan Airlines now offers non-stop flights from Melbourne to Colombo and this easier access could be a contributing factor.
Turkey gained some ground with a 4 per cent increase in Australian visitors in 2017 compared with 2017. The country continues to suffer in the wake of terrorist attacks in Istanbul in particular, although the number of visitors reported in the ABS statistics, a total of just 28,100 in 2017, is probably well short of the actual figure since for most Australian visitors who go there, Turkey would not be reported as the destination where they spent most time on their incoming passenger card.