Tuesday 30 December 2008

Tourists to shun Australia in 2009: report

By Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop - ABC News

A new report says Australia is about to suffer its biggest drop in the number of overseas visitors in 20 years.

Tourism Australia's independent forecasting committee says the industry will take in $1.8 billion less in the two years to 2010 than it predicted just four months ago.

The Tourism Forecasting Committee says inbound travel will fall by 4.1 per cent next year because of the global financial crisis.

The drop would be the worst since the Australian pilots' strike sapped visitor numbers by 7.5 per cent in 1989.

The report also says outbound travel will fall by 2.6 per cent - its first downturn since the international outbreak of SARS hit the industry six years ago.

The forecast, to be released today, also stymies expectations that falling petrol prices and the lower value of the Australian dollar will fuel a boom in domestic travel.

The Tourism Forecasting Committee predicts the number of domestic trips will drop by 0.9 per cent but its chairman, Bernard Salt, says the blow will be softened by a dramatic rise in spending.

"A lot of Australians, instead of travelling overseas with a weak dollar, will spend their vacation money locally and that will offset the expected decrease in overseas visitors," he said.

Mr Salt says that will lift the industry's takings by 0.3 per cent to $90.6 billion next year.

Job losses

The industry's peak body, the Transport and Tourism Forum, says it is shocked by the prediction that domestic leisure travel will fall.

Its executive director, Olivia Wirth, says Australia's regional tourism hubs will be hardest hit.

"There will definitely be job losses in those regions which rely on tourism," she said.

"There are some regions Australia-wide, including Cairns or the Northern Territory or Tasmania, where tourism accounts for well into 20 per cent of employment in these town centres."

Mr Salt says airlines and hospitality businesses will also be badly affected.

Ms Wirth is calling on state and federal governments to inject money to boost domestic travel.

"This is not going to be a blip, this is going to be at least a 12-month decline in tourism to Australia," she said.

"We need to make sure that the governments can actually work on a regional stimulus package for the tourism industry."

The Transport and Tourism Forum's recent survey of the industry found the number of bookings for the first quarter of 2009 were the worst on record.

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