Aussie travellers fuel rebound of the local hotel industry

It has been a tough few years for Australian hotels with pandemic shutdowns leaving them with empty rooms and few bookings, as travel restrictions – or the threat of their return – kept many would-be explorers close to home.

But the country’s hotels enjoyed a surge in visitors during the second year of post-pandemic restrictions – and proved to be a lot more friendly to budget-conscious travellers than those overseas.

Analysis by hotel commerce platform SiteMinder found the number of Australian hotel rooms booked by international visitors doubled from 8 per cent in 2022 to about 16 per cent of hotel rooms in 2023.

The hike in visitors was much needed; in Victoria alone, AHS estimated hotel operators lost $1.44 billion in revenue in the year to February 2021 – a 62 per cent fall from the previous year.

But things are looking up, and Melbourne was Australia’s top destination last year.

Short-stay provider AirBnB found the city’s “eclectic mix of coffee culture, food, art, theatre and sport” made it an attractive option for both international and local tourists.

Costs a factor

One reason behind the Australian hotel industry’s rejuvenation may be its comparatively low rise in room costs.

SiteMinder found the average daily rate of Australian hotel bookings was $US196 ($299).

This sits slightly above the international average of $US192 ($293) and represents an increase of just 4 per cent from the previous year. That compares with a jump in overall international prices of 11 per cent.

Although Australia was not the cheapest country for hotel rooms in the study – that title went to Malaysia – it was significantly less expensive than France, Canada, Ireland and the US.

The exchange rate for general travel, food and shopping expenses in those countries could add even more expense for would-be travellers.

Aussies travelling close to home

While international travellers are getting more confident in journeying to Australia, locals were still by far the biggest patrons for local hotels.

In fact, Australia had the highest percentage of local hotel bookings made by residents of the countries analysed by SiteMinder.

Domestic travellers accounted for almost 84 per cent of Australian hotel check-ins – about 19 per cent more than the US, which was second in domestic traveller hotel bookings.

It follows the return of international tourists to Australia still falling short of pre-pandemic numbers as airfares remain expensive and nerves linger about potential border closures.

Meanwhile, early in 2023, 63 per cent of Australians told the Tourism and Transport Forum they planned to travel domestically throughout the year.

David Beirman, adjunct fellow in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney, previously told TND that expensive international airfares and cost-of-living pressures were keeping many travel-hungry Australians on home soil.

But that doesn’t mean Australians have given up on exploring the world. Many now consider travel a necessity rather than a luxury after being forced to stay at home through lockdowns and border closures.

An increasingly expensive housing market is also encouraging young Australians to splurge on travel rather than save for a home.

Hotels aren’t the only accommodation options benefitting from the recent travel resurgence; Aussie interest in motel bookings was up 75 per cent for the 2022–23 summer period compared to 2019, according to Wotif.

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