The new trends driving Australian tourism and travellers

Australians’ travel habits are changing, and the industry is also in flux.

As travel returns following the pandemic – which was described as “the longest-running crisis faced by the Australian tourism industry since World War II” – new travel habits are creating fresh opportunities, challenges and growth within the sector.

Closer to home

One trend observed in the wake of the pandemic is a preference for travel closer to home, with domestic destinations and nearby international neighbours, like Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, seeing increased interest.

According to recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, tourism jobs in Australia increased by 12.1 per cent in December 2022, bringing the industry’s total number almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Nine out of 10 tourism jobs that existed before COVID are now filled.

“Quite often when there’s a recovery from a crisis situation … people tend to do their initial travelling close to home,” said David Beirman, tourism expert and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney.

“We’ve also seen a big growth in ecotourism, a lot of that because of safety reasons. If you’re in the outdoors, the likelihood of catching nasty COVID diseases is probably a lot less than if you’re stuck in a confined coach.”

The rise in domestic tourism has continued, despite concern about the COVID receding.

Boost for small business

Australians are spending more money within their own states.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift in people spending more money in their own state,” Andy Stuart said.

Mr Stuart and his wife own two bed and breakfasts and a cafe in Healesville, a popular tourist town in the Yarra Ranges, about 90 minutes from Melbourne.

Their businesses rely heavily on tourism, with Mr Stuart telling TND that despite cost of living pressures, people are spending more money on holidays.

“People are more willing to spend money to book for an extended period of time, which is good. But I don’t think our international market is completely back.”

Mr Stuart said there has been a noticeable increase in wedding-related bookings as couples who postponed their ceremonies due to COVID now have the chance to get hitched.

He said the wedding surge has led to high demand for venues, accommodation, and staff. In response to varying demand, businesses like Mr Stuart’s have hired more casual staff to manage peak times.

Mr Stuart says he has had to adapt by scaling up marketing on social media and reducing prices overall.

Local focus

Dr Sarah Gardner, director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism at Griffith University, told TND that small businesses are crucial to job recovery within the tourism industry, as they employ most workers in the sector.

“Getting more working holidaymakers and international students back will also help in terms of filling casual labour shorts”, thus contributing to the industry’s recovery, she told TND.

Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, a prominent travel expert, said that the industry should concentrate on sustainable practices, prioritise workforce wellbeing, and strengthen the domestic and regional tourism market.

She said that with looming crises, such as climate change, the tourism and hospitality sectors must develop realistic policies to attract young professionals seeking stable careers.

“My view is that it would be very wise to build up and rely more on the domestic and regional tourism market and let international tourism marketing and supports be a smaller proportion of focus.

“Job growth and workforce development will come from an industry that is concerned to benefit local communities and support greater economic integration with other local businesses.”

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