Significant revisions muddy the data but Domestic Tourism numbers not looking good for TNQ

As we have been expecting for some time, today saw the release of some major revisions to domestic tourism numbers for TNQ. Tourism Research Australia have released the National Visitor Survey report for the March 2017 quarter (available here) along with revisions to data going back to the 2014 year (see here for details). The main point of the revisions is a roughly 15% decline in the original estimate of overnight trips to TNQ in 2015. While details of the revisions are sketchy at this stage (TRA are only providing data for year end, and March 2016, rather than individual quarters) it is clear that they remove much of the increases previously reported for TNQ which many (ourselves included) had queried at the time.

Despite a degree of uncertainty about the revisions this new data clearly confirms the ongoing slide in domestic tourism to the Far North.

Australia saw an increase of overnight trips of 3.1% for the year to March 2017; Queensland was up 4.3%. In TNQ however we saw a 6.9% decline in visits and a 8.4% reduction in expenditure over the year.

Even with international tourism expenditure having increased over the year, the drop in domestic expenditure sees the total for the region fall 4.9% since March 2016.

Given the support that the tourism recovery has given to the TNQ economy it will be worrying many to see this degree of a slow-down seemingly now confirmed. There had been hope within the tourism sector that the long-awaited revisions from TRA would confirm that growth remained in place (albeit at a slower pace than originally estimated); that hope appears now to have been misplaced.

6 replies
  1. Mark Beath
    Mark Beath says:

    That’s a pretty extraordinary revision. I think the margin of error for TNQ is around 5% as well anyway on overnight visitors but not sure. Maybe we can convince your representative Bob Katter to follow it up. I hear he has a head for numbers o_O

    Seriously, I think it deserves questions in a forum such as parliamentary estimates hearings.

  2. Gene Tunny
    Gene Tunny says:

    Yes, concerning if true, but I’ve noticed those TRA numbers are highly volatile. Given the improvement in the Cairns labour market is seems pretty clear to me that tourism is going strongly, casting doubt on these figures.

  3. Pete Faulkner
    Pete Faulkner says:

    Gents, These revisions have been expected (and widely telegraphed) for some time given the weirdly strong data originally reported from early 2015, so no real surprise there. The concern is that, after the revisions, the decline in domestic expenditure reported over the past year has been confirmed. There was an expectation within the tourism industry that the revisions would show the decline to have been a statistical error. Having said all that expenditures remain historically high and the tourism industry continues to provide strength to the regional economy.
    My concern would be if we see this (revised) trend of declines is confirmed in coming quarters. The good international numbers quite simply cannot make up for poor domestic expenditure.
    Thanks for the comments.

  4. Glen
    Glen says:

    Pete, I spent the week up there last week, hotel I was at had organised some drinks etc for some of their corporates and whilst talking to the manager he advised that bookings were average but not spectacular, they have other properties in town also which had similar numbers. When I enquired why business was not replicating growing numbers at the airport he indicated a belief that numbers at the airport didn’t accurately reflect transit numbers and the effect of things like home porting for cruise ships etc, which added numbers to airport stats, but added little benefit to the rest of the industry, which I thought was interesting.

    • Pete Faulkner
      Pete Faulkner says:

      Thanks Glen, that’s an interesting comment. I don’t think there can be any doubt that tourist numbers are pretty good at the moment; the question really relates to whether we are seeing a genuine slowdown in domestic tourism or if it is simply a problem with the TRA data for TNQ. My gut feeling says it’s probably a bit of both…time will tell.

    • Mark Beath
      Mark Beath says:


      The numbers I am posting and also I think HTW airport numbers are ex-transits as reported by the airport. BITRE government numbers are reported on slightly different definitions but generally support trends. However anecdotally many people from Cairns itself have made use of increased capacity to places like Bali and Melbourne particularly.

      I’m not sure home porting would make that much difference to airport numbers but this may again be definitional. As I understand it there is only one vessel “home porting’ in Cairns? This isn’t the same thing as vessels which stopover so may pick up passengers? Economic analysis of dredging was that “home porting” delivered significantly larger economic benefits.

      However, after being away for some months until May my feedback and perceptions match what you have said. The first quarter has been slack on all measures and feedback. We will need to see a solid season.

      Also, my initial comment was intended slightly tongue-in-cheek around recent comments on the Member for Kennedy. However these TRA numbers are the ones state and local tourism bodies use to justify their performance and funding to the public. That is why it matters.


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