Visitors are flocking back to the national capital. But Chief Minister Andrew Barr sees in-bound tourism really taking off with more budget flights, the return of international carriers and the forging of new overseas connections to Canberra.
The latest figures from Tourism Research Australia for 2022 show the post-COVID rebound is on with 5.33 million domestic and international visitors to Canberra last year, up 71 per cent on the previous year.
But most of those were domestic, particularly from NSW, although the advent of budget carrier Jetstar on the Brisbane and Gold Coast routes has boosted visitors from South-East Queensland.
Unsurprisingly, the number of international visitors was way down on 2019 figures – 67.4 per cent – although the return of students in 2023 after the lifting of COVID restrictions, particularly in China, is helping to turn that figure around.
Total visitor numbers are still 87 per cent of pre-COVID levels but they are spending more, a statistic Mr Barr was keen to emphasise. Although he conceded higher costs may be playing a role.
Visitors to the ACT spent $3.03 billion last year, up 144 per cent on 2021 and the highest visitor expenditure in a 12-month period in the ACT. It also overtook pre-COVID levels, at 107 per cent, compared to 2019.
The ACT also enjoyed the highest bounce of all states and territories in domestic overnight visitor growth last year with 3.03 million visitors , a 75 per cent increase.
Two-thirds of overnight visitors were from NSW, as were three-quarters of day trippers to the ACT.
Mr Barr said the next step was to attract more tourists from major centres further afield who would benefit from cheaper flights as airlines such as Qantas expanded their operations.
“We need cheaper and easier aviation access to grow, particularly our short-stay markets from those major centres,” he said.
“The next steps will be to focus our efforts in a couple of those markets that have further growth potential with more low-cost aviation services.
“It’s proved after many decades that businesses such as Jetstar would be successful in the Canberra market and feed a significant tourism boost across the entire Canberra tourism sector.”
Mr Barr said his ongoing aviation diplomacy in South-East Asia, the Pacific and New Zealand might soon bear fruit.
“As the aviation industry recovers, and more planes and crew are brought back online, that opens up more opportunities for us,” he said.
“People want to come and if they put on the flights, the seats will fill.”
Mr Barr said Qantas boss Alan Joyce had specifically referenced routes such as Canberra- Auckland, Canberra-Wellington and Canberra- Singapore as being within the capacity of its new aircraft.
“So we’re obviously working closely with Qantas to pursue those opportunities,” he said.
While Mr Barr was looking skyward, Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall was focused on the 5 million people on the ACT’s doorstep, the impact interest rate rises may have on tourism this year and the need to be competitive.
“We’re very much a drive market and so it’s very, very popular for families,” he said.
“When they’re looking at what they have to spend, the discretionary spending, this is why Canberra’s going to be doing particularly well. It’s why Canberra Tourism and Visit Canberra are very much focused on our key markets – NSW, Queensland and Victoria,” he said.
Mr Marshall said with a slowdown expected across the nation, marketing would play a big role in showing what Canberra had to offer.
“We’ve seen the difficulty with restaurants at the moment and the trouble they’re going through. So we need to keep up the marketing because Canberra does a great job in that respect,” he said.
Mr Barr and Mr Marshall praised the $535 million rescue package for the national institutions, such an important part of Canberra’s tourism offering.
National Tourism Award winner Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium is one attraction leading the way for Canberra.
The zoo’s executive manager of business and marketing, Russell Jackson, said collaboration was the key for the ACT’s tourism operators.
“We’ve been lucky to partner with places such as the Hyatt Hotel and GoBoat to form itineraries for people to visit and that’s what people want – simplicity in their visits, and that’s what they’re getting now in Canberra,” he said
“People love packages.”