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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
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Contents >> Other Areas of Concern >> Overseas travel and recent world events

Overseas travel and recent world events

Immediately following the September 11 terrorism attacks, the Bali bombing and SARS outbreak there were decreases in overseas short-term arrivals and departures.

People travel overseas for many reasons - to experience other cultures and countries, to visit friends and relatives and increasingly for work and business. However, there are barriers to world travel which can impact on the numbers of international travellers and/or their destinations. These can range from economic concerns over increased costs arising from fluctuations in exchange rates to personal concerns associated with the safety of international travel after events such as the September 11 attacks in the United States of America (USA) in 2001. There is public and policy interest in reasons for fluctuations in numbers and types of travellers as tourism represents a significant economic opportunity for Australia. In 2001-02 tourism contributed $31.8 billion of GDP. (SEE ENDNOTE 1) From 2004, the new Australian Government body, Tourism Australia, will receive an additional $121 million over four and a half years for international marketing of Australia as a holiday destination.(SEE ENDNOTE 2) This article examines short-term travel, both to and from Australia. It explores the characteristics of people travelling, as well as travel patterns in the months following recent world events.


Since the 1970s, travel by air has been the preferred travel mode for most people visiting Australia as well as Australians travelling overseas. Decreases in the time and costs of air travel were associated with increases in the numbers of people travelling to and from Australia. In 2003, there were nearly 17 times as many overseas short-term visitor arrivals to Australia (4.7 million) as there were in 1975 (281,000).



This article draws on short-term travel data from the ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures collection.

Short-term travel refers to travel for a period of less than 12 months. Estimates refer to travellers' intended duration of travel.

Overseas arrivals (of overseas visitors) and departures (of Australian residents) through Australian ports relate to the number of movements of travellers rather than the number of travellers.

Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by removing systematic calendar related effects from the original estimates, such as seasonal influences. That is, seasonally adjusted estimates capture trend behaviour but still contain residual/irregular effects.

Trend estimates are produced by smoothing the seasonally adjusted series, as a means of reducing the impact of the irregular component of the series. These trend series are used to analyse the underlying behaviour of the series over time. Revisions may occur with seasonally adjusted and trend series. Unless otherwise stated, seasonally adjusted and trend data are at February 2004.

Over the past 20 years, short-term arrivals and departures have generally increased year by year. Prior to the mid-1980s, Australian departures were generally higher than overseas arrivals. However, since 1987, there have been more overseas arrivals than Australian departures every year.

Historically, a wide range of world events have appeared to influence short-term travel patterns. These have included world sporting and cultural events which attract people to specific destinations. For example, there were increases in the number of overseas short-term arrivals in 1982, 1988, and 2000; the years of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games, Brisbane World Exposition, and the Sydney Olympics.

More recent world events have included the September 11 attacks in the USA in 2001, the Bali bombings in 2002, commencement of military action in Iraq in 2003, and the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) across many countries in 2003. While these events may have affected short-term travel, within a few months travel patterns have tended to re-establish themselves.


Australia attracts many types of visitors from many places; from backpackers to those on business, who may have travelled from as close as our neighbouring Asian countries or half way around the world.

While people of all ages visit Australia, the vast majority of overseas visitors are of working age. In 2003, there were 4.7 million short-term visitor arrivals, and 80% of these were people aged 20-64 years. Over half a million were 25-29 year olds who were generally visiting Australia for a holiday. People travelling mainly for business tended to be aged 35-44 years, while many people travelling to visit friends and relatives in Australia were aged 45-54 years.



Generally, there were more females than males visiting Australia in each age group aged less than 30 years, with many female visitors (294,000) in the 25-29 year age group, but more males than females in most age groups from 30 years.

Over half (58%) of all short-term visitor arrivals to Australia in 2003 were from New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK), Japan, the USA and Singapore. These countries comprised the top five countries for short-term arrivals in 2003, led by New Zealand with 839,000 arrivals. Most people travelling from these countries were visiting Australia for a holiday or to visit friends and relatives.

Reflecting Australia's location in the Asia Pacific region, there were six Asian countries in the top 10 countries for short-term visitor arrivals in 2003: Japan, Singapore, Korea, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Asian short-term travellers to Australia in 2003 made up 40% of all arrivals for the year. Further, Asian countries had relatively high proportions of students travelling to Australia for education. About 12% of short-term Chinese visitors were students compared with 1% of New Zealand visitors.


Short-term visitor arrivals in 2000 were the highest ever, reaching 4.9 million. The Sydney Olympics and Paralympics took place in Australia during this year, and these events may have attracted more people than usual. This peak was maintained in 2001, but the number of visitors declined in 2002 and 2003.

In the months following the September 11 attacks in 2001, there were decreases in monthly arrivals - in November 2001, there were 82,000 fewer (seasonally adjusted) visitor arrivals than in November 2000. While seasonally adjusted monthly arrivals increased through 2002, the total number of short-term arrivals for that year (4.8 million) was lower than in 2001 and 2000.

There were large decreases in seasonally adjusted monthly arrivals again in the early months of 2003. These followed the lead up to, and subsequent commencement of, military action in Iraq (March 2003), as well as the outbreak of SARS in some countries in 2003 (the World Health Organisation issued a SARS travel advisory in March). Monthly arrivals increased steadily later in 2003, particularly in the months leading up to October when Australia hosted the 2003 Rugby World Cup. During this period, there were increases in arrivals from some participating countries (e.g.New Zealand, the UK and South Africa). Despite this, the total number of short-term visitor arrivals declined again in 2003 to 4.7 million.

Changes in patterns of short-term arrivals following world events varied by country of origin. Changes in visitor arrivals from New Zealand have been relatively minor, with seasonally adjusted monthly arrivals remaining at a similar level over the past three years. In contrast, visitor arrivals from other countries declined more dramatically - before increasing steadily in the months following each event as people resumed travel, presumably after the initial shock of the events had subsided. Short-term visitor arrivals from the UK, Japan and the USA all declined in the months following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Japanese visitor arrivals declined strongly in the months following the Bali bombings in October 2002.

Japanese short-term arrivals declined in the early months of 2003 following the outbreak of SARS in some Asian countries, with Japanese monthly arrivals (seasonally adjusted) more strongly affected than arrivals from other countries. This may reflect the fact that a number of countries affected by SARS are transit points for international travel, such as travel between Japan and Australia. The Japanese tourist market appeared to be recovering in the second half of 2003, with 628,000 Japanese visitor arrivals to Australia by the end of 2003.


Australians are enthusiastic travellers. Australian short-term departures overseas have nearly tripled over the past 20 years; there were 1.3 million departures in 1983, compared with 3.4 million in 2003.

In 2003, 51% of Australian short-term departures overseas were by people aged 30-54 years. People in this age group were travelling overseas mainly to visit friends or relatives, or for business. Australians travelling overseas in younger age groups were mainly travelling for holidays.


Similar to short-term visitor arrivals, there were generally more females than males departing Australia in each age group aged less than 30 years (with more female travellers in the 30-34 years age group than any other age group) but generally more males than females in age groups from 30 years.

Nearly half (47%) of all Australian short-term departures in 2003 were to New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Indonesia, and Fiji. These countries comprised the top five destinations for Australian departures, with New Zealand the most popular destination with 663,000 departures. Most people travelling to these countries were going for a holiday, except for travellers to the UK, where many were visiting friends and relatives.

Asia was also a popular destination. In 2003, just over one-third (35%) of Australian short-term departures overseas were to an Asian country. Departures to Asia have steadily climbed in the last 20 years from 357,000 departures in 1983 to 1.2 million in 2003.




In 2000, Australian short-term departures overseas reached 3.5 million. In each of the three years since then, Australian departures have remained at a similar level, decreasing slightly in 2003 to 3.4 million.

In the months following the September 11 attacks in 2001, there were large decreases in the numbers of Australian departures overseas - in November 2001, there were 49,000 fewer (seasonally adjusted) departures than in November 2000. Similarly, in the months following the commencement of military action in Iraq and the outbreak of SARS in 2003, there were also decreases in seasonally adjusted monthly departures. In May 2003, there were 60,000 fewer (seasonally adjusted) Australian departures overseas than in May 2002.

In 2001, Australian departures to the USA dropped by 39% (seasonally adjusted) during the two months after the September 11 attacks. Similarly, after the Bali bombing in October 2002, Australian departures to Indonesia dropped by 59% in the following two months. However, towards the end of 2003, monthly seasonally adjusted Australian departures to both Indonesia and the USA were increasing, and appeared to be at similar levels to totals experienced in early 2001.


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, National Accounts: Tourism Satellite Account, 2001-02, cat. no. 5249.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources <>, accessed 22 April 2004.

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