With international arrivals down over 90% will the tourism sector ever recover?

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Murchison River from Nature's Window, Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia. Source: Shutterstock

Murchison River from Nature's Window, Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia. Source: Shutterstock

Have you had a holiday in the past 18 months? If so, chances are it's been local. Depending on where you are you might have left your home state but for many not even that has been an option.

Last week, good old Facebook threw one of their on this day memory posts at me. Lovely memory reminding me of the last time I went overseas. I'm sure in a couple of weeks I'll get a reminder of the last time I was on a plane and then the last time I left the state of New South Wales.

For a nation as mobile as ours it's strange to realise how restricted our movements have been. I consider myself to be pretty fortunate that despite not having left NSW, I've covered thousands of kilometres hitting the most northern, western and eastern boundaries of the state. Perhaps my next trip, once lockdown lifts, will be to travel down to Albury and travel along the Riverina Highway.

The thing is, despite restrictions on travel I haven't been sitting around pining for overseas. Sure I've missed out on some planned adventures, but they're just indefinitely postponed, not cancelled.

I've had a ball traipsing across NSW, restrictions permitting, visiting mates, national parks, and regional areas I'd always planned to check out but had never quite got around to.

Along the way it's been fascinating to see how unoriginal my travel plans were. I've encountered plenty of other Aussies who feel the same way - what better time to see our own country than now?

Of course it's not all good news. As you'll see in this week's Race to the Regions article the tourism sector is suffering. For all the goodwill generated by federal and state support and incentives for domestic tourism, international tourism is vital for the survival of the sector.

ABS data shows that for the year to May 2021 international arrivals were down 98.4%. Just two years prior, international arrivals exceeded 1 million people. In May this year international arrivals were 36,780. Even with the best of will, domestic tourism cannot replace the loss of international tourism.

Especially not with 14.8 million of Australia's 25.6 million people living in NSW and Victoria and both those states suffering the most from COVID-cases and travel restrictions.

Whilst it's not enough to keep the industry afloat there are areas of hope.

Regional tourism has taken off in a big way. I would not recommend hopping in the car and thinking oh I'll just see where the road takes me. Not if you want to stay in a hotel that is.

Last year in Orange a friend and I were lucky to get accommodation in town after leaving it a bit late to book somewhere to stay. As for the wine tastings, well we managed to get a few in but not nearly as many as intended - simply because the place was full of tourists. All domestic.

Broome in WA is also seeing a huge influx of domestic tourists. It's repeated across the country.

Join us this week on Race to the Regions as we explore how COVID has changed the face of tourism.

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