Monday, February 13, 2012

Marvellous Melbourne rises in visitor appeal

VICTORIA or more specifically, Melbourne has become a magnet for overseas visitors, accounting for almost half the entire growth in visitors to Australia over the past decade.

Bureau of Statistics figures show that the number of foreign visitors who say they spent most of their time in Victoria shot up by 60 per cent in the past decade, soaring from roughly 750,000 in 2001 to 1.2 million in 2011.

Victoria's boom emerged even though total visitor numbers to Australia levelled off, growing by just over 1 million, or 20 per cent, over the decade.

The two main tourist states, New South Wales and Queensland, saw visitors grow by just 290,000 between them.

The high dollar has dented Australia's tourist industry. In 2011, while total visitor numbers shrank only marginally, to 5.96 million, those coming for holidays as tourists slumped by 4 per cent to 2.59 million.

The number of tourists has fallen by almost 400,000 a year since the dollar started to climb towards record levels. A decade ago, after the Sydney Olympics, Australia was hoping to have 5 million tourists a year by now; the numbers have shrunk to barely half that.

The tourist drought has been most intense in Sydney and on Queensland's beaches. Total overseas visitors (including students and short-term workers) have slumped by 9 per cent in Queensland since 2005, grown just 3 per cent in NSW, yet shot up almost 30 per cent in Victoria.

Victoria has a far bigger share of visitors coming here to study, to visit friends and relatives, or for business or jobs. These classes of visitors to Australia have stabilised or kept growing as tourist arrivals have shrunk.

Surveys by Tourism Victoria show that Melbourne is the biggest attraction: 80 per cent of foreign visitors to the state never spend a night outside the capital. Fewer than one in 10 even visited the Great Ocean Road, the main attraction in regional Victoria.

The biggest growth has been in visitors from China, who are about to overtake New Zealanders as the biggest source of tourists to Victoria. Tourism Victoria estimates that in the year to September, the state was visited by 259,000 Kiwis, 252,400 Chinese, 203,600 Britons and 122,300 Americans.