Where’d the Chinese tourists go?

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By Leith van Onselen

Yesterday’s release of the overseas short-term arrivals and departures figures for November contained more sombre news for Australia’s tourism industry, with the ratio of annual arrivals to departures fell to its lowest level since November 1985, driven in part by a slump in inbound tourists from China (see next chart).

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In the month of November 2013, the number of tourism arrivals fell by a seasonally adjusted 0.9%, whereas the number of tourist departures rose by 0.1%.


In the 12 months to November 2013, the annual number of arrivals increased by 3.3% relative to the corresponding period of the prior year, whereas departures rose by 5.2% (see next chart).

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The year to November 2013 was a record for outbound and inbound tourism. A record 8.65 million Australians holidayed overseas over the year – a 159% increase on 10 years ago (3.34 million). However, this was partly offset by a record 6.44 million inbound tourists arriving in Australia over the year – a 37% increase on a decade ago (4.71 million).


As always, South East Asia (particularly Indonesia and Thailand) remains by far Australia’s favourite holiday destination, receiving 228,000 visitors in November, or 31% of Australia’s total departures over the month. This was followed by Oceania (21%), the Americas (13%), North East Asia and North West Europe (each 11%):

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By contrast, the most foreign visitors to Australia came from NE Asia (mostly China) – although these fell heavily for the second month – which accounted for 22% of arrivals in November, followed by Oceania (21%):

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The slump in arrivals from China – which have fallen by 29% over the past two months and are down 9% over the past year – are reportedly due to a crack down by Chinese authorities and poses a problem for Australia’s tourism industry:

REPORTS of a fall-off in Chinese inbound visitor arrivals last November sent shivers through the tourism sector yesterday as it has pinned long-term recovery hopes on mainland China…

China Eastern Airlines general manager Kathy Zhang said Chinese tourist arrivals had been dropping since October when the Chinese government cracked down on the operators of illegal shopping tours that make up more than half of the tours between China and Australia.

Tourism groups also blamed the new China Tourism Law which is aimed at stamping out cheap Chinese tour operators who offer very low prices and very low quality.


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About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.