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Grim Year Ahead Predicted for Australian Tourism

  • Phil Mercer

A new study predicts that recessions in Japan and the United States will cause Australia to suffer its biggest drop in overseas visitors in 20 years. Inbound numbers are expected to fall by more than four percent as economic growth slows in Australia's largest international tourist markets.

Tourism Australia, the country's travel authority, warns that the global recession will damage the country's multibillion dollar travel industry.

A new report says the number of foreign travelers heading to Australia will decline next year to their lowest levels since 1989.

The biggest falls are likely to be in visitors from Japan, expected to drop almost 30 percent to about 407,000 in 2009. Tourism from China will also stall as its economic growth slows.

"If you look at countries that are particularly affected - the U.S., the U.K., Japan, New Zealand - these are our big markets and they've been significantly impacted by the global financial crisis. And it is no surprise that this will translate into fewer visitors to Australia next year," says Bernard Salt, who is with Tourism Australia.

The study warns of significant job losses in Australian regions that rely on the travel trade. That includes the dive resort of Cairns in Queensland and many parts of the Northern Territory and Tasmania, where tourism accounts for more than 20 percent of employment.

Australia's tourism industry is worth $62 billion annually and employs thousands of people.

To boost the faltering sector, a new advertising campaign is starting, linked to the movie Australia, which stars homegrown performers Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

The film, a lavish World War II saga directed by Baz Luhrmann, is Australia's most expensive movie. Government officials say it is too early to tell if the ad blitz was working. It replaces controversial government advertisements that used the line "So, where the bloody hell are you?" to urge foreigners to visit Australia.

The language in that campaign was considered offensive in Britain, where the commercials were banned. The campaign met with a confused response in other parts of the world, most notably in Asia.

Despite the grim forecast, Tourism Australia says the market is well-placed to rebound strongly in 2010 if the Australian dollar remains at low levels, consumer confidence rebounds and growth in aviation capacity steadies.

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