March tourism data shows the scale of the COVID-19 impact in the Far North

Tourism Research Australia have released their International and National Visitor Surveys for the year to March 2020 today (see here). This is the first of the quarterly data that will start to exhibit some of the COVID-19 related impacts. The pandemic began to affect travel from China early in 2020, and then throughout the rest of the world, ahead of travel shut-downs taking effect towards the end of March.

Australia saw international visitors drop by 5.7% y/y while international expenditures were down 6.7%. In Queensland the decline in visitor numbers was slightly greater (down 6.3% y/y) while expenditures fell slightly less (down 4.9% y/y). Unfortunately, and largely due to those early falls from China along with substantial declines from the US and UK, international visitor numbers to TNQ were down 14.4% with expenditure falling 12.3% y/y. As a result TNQ’s share of the international market has again fallen sharply to a new low of just 9.0%.


International visits to TNQ from China were down 28.6% while the declines from the UK and US were also severe, both down 14.2%. Japan registered a more modest 7.8% decline, although this was still greater than the national average drop of 5.7%.

The domestic sector (including both overnight and day-trips) was much more positive with trips within Australia up 3.0% and expenditure lifting 6.7%. Queensland, again, did less well with visits up 0.9% and expenditure up 4.3%. In TNQ visits were up 8.1% and expenditure lifted 6.9%. While this domestic data (which now accounts for three-quarters of all tourism expenditures) has provided much relief to the sector in the March quarter we can be sure that there will be significant declines to be seen in the June data as the effects of the Australia-wide lock-downs only really started to ease at the beginning of June.

In total Australian tourism expenditure (international and domestic) was up 3.5%, Queensland 2.5% while TNQ managed just 1.5% for the year (which equates to a slightly negative result when considered in real, inflation-adjusted terms).

These results in themselves will come as no surprise but the scale of the relative decline in the TNQ market highlights (if it needed highlighting!) how badly the region is being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Results in coming quarters will only get worse.

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