International tourist arrivals to Australia are growing at the same annual rate as the number of overseas trips being taken by Australians for the first time in almost a decade.

The latest Overseas Arrivals and Departures (OADs) figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that international arrivals grew 4.9% in the 12 months to the end of February, the same rate as Australians travelling overseas.

TTF Acting Chief Executive Officer Trent Zimmerman said the annual figures are good news for Australian tourism operators.

“It’s the first time since late 2003 that the annual growth rate for international arrivals has matched that of international departures,” he said.

“The moderation in growth of outbound travel by Australians is a further indication that Australians have adjusted to the strong Australian dollar as the new normal.

“We hope that this will translate into a continuation of the recovery in domestic tourism, which accounts for around 70% of expenditure in Australia’s visitor economy.”

Zimmerman said the OADs also show that Lunar New Year drove a significant increase in Chinese arrivals in February.

“More than 110,000 Chinese visitors came to Australia in February – the biggest number of Chinese arrivals in a single month,” he said.

“Chinese visitors accounted for almost one in five of all international visitors to Australia in February, underscoring the importance of Chinese New Year to our tourism industry and the value of investing in events which attract those visitors.

“It’s also an endorsement of Tourism Australia’s expansion in China and of plans announced this week for the G’day China tourism, trade and investment initiative.

“Pleasingly, we are also seeing a continuing recovery in arrivals from traditional markets like the US (+5.8% for the year) and Japan (+4.2%), which demonstrates the value of long-term investment in marketing and promotional campaigns in a range of key source markets.”

ATEC Chairman, John King said the growth of China and Singapore was promising.

“These figures back up moves by the tourism industry, and our international marketing effort, in building an even stronger connection with the China market,” he said.

“With the recently announced expansion of Qantas codeshare to provide increased weekly connections to China we can clearly see the strong demand is showing no signs of waning.

“It is also an important time for Australia to be investing more marketing effort into China and ATEC welcomes the announcement of a ‘G’day China’ campaign similar to that run in the United States.”

King said the figures also showed continued strengthening of the US market which has been steadily growing in recent months.

“The ‘G’day USA’ program began back in 2004 and has provided a strong basis for marketing ‘brand Australia’ in the US and we can attribute some of the resurgence in this market, following the fallback during the GFC, to the underlying strength of this campaign.

“ATEC is strongly supporting the industry to successfully engage with the opportunities offered by China, providing the most comprehensive China Ready training program available to the industry.

“This unique program assists tourism businesses to develop the tools they need to properly engage in the Chinese market successfully.”

While the UK remains soft, King said there were signs of improvements out of Europe and the United Kingdom.

“Many ATEC members have told me their future bookings from the UK and Europe are the strongest they have seen in a number of years.

“We now have a significant opportunity to broaden our market base – securing and strengthening our traditional markets while building a vast market base out of China for years to come.”