Tourism in the Far North

The data from Cairns Airport for July shows a very solid pick up in both international and domestic passenger numbers. Our Trend estimate suggests that total monthly numbers are now approaching 400,000 which is only 7.5% below pre-COVID levels at this time of year. Most of this shortfall is from the international sector where passenger numbers, despite some encouraging recovery, are still 20% below their pre-COVID levels. If we consider the running annual total, international passenger numbers now sit slightly above 50% of where they were at this time in 2019.

The TRA monthly snapshot tourism data for May shows a clear sign that across Queensland domestic tourism expenditure has fallen in recent months. This is no surprise; as Australians start to travel more easily abroad we would expect to see domestic expenditures decline.

We are yet to get the tourism figures for the June quarter for Tropical North Queensland. However, this monthly data, combined with some even more up-to-date credit-card spend data for the region, suggest that we are likely to see a further decline in TNQ expenditure numbers when we do get the June release. Our expectation is for a domestic expenditure figure for the year to June of something a little below $4bn. While that may be a sharp drop from the Dec 2022 high of $4.38bn we need to remember that the pre-COVID high was just $2.6bn; we are simply seeing a renormalisation of domestic tourism.

The burning question for the sector will be, how much of this domestic decline can be offset by the return of international visitors to the region? The Cairns Airport data might suggest an answer. Annual international arrivals for the year to June were about 40% above the figure in March; that could point towards second quarter international tourism expenditure being at least $200 million higher than the first quarter which would go at least some way to offsetting the domestic decline.

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