$59 billion domestic visitor economy record, overseas arrivals hit a new high, and Cato the Elder says scrap backpacker tax

The numbers are in for the domestic visitor economy today and they are looking very good.

The latest national visitor survey that covers the 2015/16 financial year confirms that overnight spending reached a record $59 billion (up 6 per cent), overnight trips reached 88.9 million (up 7 percent) and nights reached 328 million (up 5 per cent).

The Northern Territory, Western Australia and the ACT have performed very well with double digit growth in domestic visitor numbers and spending. The Northern Territory in particular has seen a remarkable 36 per cent growth in visitor numbers and 28 per cent increase in visitor spending. I’m very pleased to see such strong results in the NT and WA because they have been struggling with growth in the international visitor market.

Australians are now spending $162 million a day on domestic tourism and that is a great result for the nation’s visitor economy. When you add the $59 billion to the most recent international visitor survey results of $38.1 billion we are now just shy of $100 billion in overnight visitor spend in the last financial year.

Australia is now well on its way to beating the Tourism 2020 target of between $115 and $140 billion in overnight visitor spend but I don’t believe we should be willing to settle for this result. I have no doubt we can do better.

I know how much you all love numbers, so here are some more by popular demand with Friday’s short-term overseas arrivals figures. 7.9 million international visitors travelled to Australia over the 12 months to July 2016 – up 10.6 per cent on the previous year. That makes it the strongest annual growth rate since March 2005.

Australia continues to see a strong surge in international visitor numbers with double digit growth in seven of our top 10 tourist source markets. The Chinese market continues its rocket trajectory towards the top of the league table – 23.2 per cent growth over the past 12 months is truly astounding and yet we are attracting less than one per cent of Chinese travellers to Australia.

We are seeing fantastic double digit growth in our other key markets of the US, Singapore, Japan and South Korea which shows the attractiveness of Australia as a destination is wide-spread through the Asia-Pacific and into North America.

All of these great results should not be an excuse for the Federal Government or any State or Territory Government to switch the visitor economy to autopilot. Tourism is a super-growth sector for Australia but only if we keep a firm hand on the tiller and continue to make strong investments in the sector, while reducing the regulatory burden that holds us back from reaching our full potential.

With the visitor economy employing nearly one million people, we should have the ambition on the back of these continuing strong results to double that to two million jobs over the coming decade. TTF has been a vocal advocate of the need to develop a dedicated economic strategy for the visitor economy and these results only reinforce why putting tourism and transport at the heart of the nation’s economic agenda just makes a whole lot of sense.

Finally, I’m starting to feel a bit like Cato the Elder in the old Roman Senate calling for Carthage to be destroyed at the end of every speech but I’ll say it again, the backpacker tax must be scrapped.