05 Apr 2022

Opinion: Wheel is turning on tourist numbers

Tourism in South Australia is on the path to recovery. The visitor economy is tracking ahead of its forecast position despite Omicron, market conditions are favourable, and signs show 2022 will be a bumper year.

With low unemployment and high levels of savings and disposable income, Australians are ready to get away.

We’ve seen borders remain open, and with it, an increasing confidence and sense of certainty that is bringing life back to our airports, putting planes in the sky and seeing more people hitting the road to discover regional SA.

We saw this appetite for travel translate into dollars in December, when our state’s total visitor expenditure was almost on par with 2019 levels – a time when we also had international tourists moving about.

Total visitor expenditure in SA in December, including the loss of all international expenditure, was 98 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels. If we focus solely on domestic visitor expenditure, it was higher than pre-Covid levels. At $612 million, it was up 11 per cent on December 2019.

These numbers are remarkable and highlight how factors like strong travel demand and an eagerness to visit family and friends, and attend events, can make a huge difference.

While the Omicron outbreak stunted tourism in January, there’s no doubt the festival season, coupled with more Great State Vouchers, got people moving again.

We’ve celebrated average occupancy in our city hotels reaching more than 85 per cent and forward bookings for Adelaide hotels across the next three months hitting a post-pandemic record high.

We know events are vital to trigger visitation, and this was reflected in sharp spikes in occupancy for the opening of the Adelaide Festival and Fringe, and during the WOMADelaide long weekend.

While international recovery will be slower – predictions are that is still a couple of years away – the opportunity for this year lays in our domestic market. Consumer research shows that intention to visit SA is increasing, airlines are reporting domestic seats are about 86 per cent of pre-Covid levels, and we’re working hard to recover the $2.7 billion that interstate visitors spent here in 2019. Nationally, Tourism Australia has announced a target of growing the visitor economy to $230 billion by 2030.

As we look ahead, I am confident we can make strong inroads on recovering interstate visitation and rebuilding the domestic market.

While the composition will likely be very different, the dollars target remains the same – we have our eyes firmly set on recovering our once $8.1 billion visitor economy.

Rodney Harrex is South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive.