By Greg Peel
Tourism was once Australia's second biggest industry, but that was in the days when a more inviting Australian dollar made visiting Australia for a holiday relatively inexpensive, despite the tyranny of distance. Nowadays Australia seems an awfully long way to go to pay high prices, particularly if economic conditions at home are tenuous.
Believe it or not, overseas arrivals are actually trending up, according to ABS data. CommBank economists note the majority of visitors to Australia usually stay one one to two weeks, but those staying 6-12 months are up by 71% since 2006 with a similar advance being seen in the 3-6 month bracket. These foreigners are clearly not tourists, and indeed the increase in visitors matches neatly with the increase in employee numbers in Australia's resource sector. Since June 2007, CommBank, notes, the number of construction 457 (skilled worker) visas issued has jumped by 42%. Most workers (68%) end up in Queensland or Western Australia, but it is unlikely they are here to lie on the beach at Surfers or pet a dolphin at Monkey Mia.
Education is a significant domestic services export, CommBank points out, but while those visiting Australia to study increased steadily to 2010 the numbers have since plateaued. CommBank blames the dollar. (One might drag up unfortunate xenophobia issues as well.)