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Australia’s education tourism market is soaring, but is this to the detriment of backpackers?

China continued its strong run of visitor numbers to Australia in 2018, despite the rate of growth slowing slightly, according to full-year International Visitor Statistics released this week from Tourism Research Australia.

The long-time leader in inbound arrivals retained its place at the top of the charts, accounting for 1.3 million visitors over the year – a 5 per cent jump on the same period to the end of 2017.

Across all markets, which covers all people aged 15 years and up, a total of 8.5 million visitors came through the proverbial turnstiles, spending a total of 274 million room nights in Australia and spending a collective $43.9 billion – a seven per cent increase on the year prior.

Visitors from New Zealand virtually matched that of China and also closing at 1.3 million arrivals. This was a two per cent improvement, while spend increased four per cent to $2.6 million.

India recorded the highest growth level for the year, with arrivals up 18 per cent to 336,000 and spend up 21 per cent to $1.7 billion. The traditional markets of the US and UK were largely flat, with no more than a one per cent increase coming from the States to 744,000 arrivals, while visitors from the UK remained steady at 668,000.

Of particular interest was the somewhat alarming figure of first-time visitors versus those returning for another visit to Australia. There was no change in the number making their maiden visit to Australian shores, while the number of returning guests climbed 8 per cent. The number of visitors coming to Australia for a holiday climbed four per cent to 3.9 million, while the VFR market jumped six per cent to 2.6 million.

Longer-term arrivals performed strongly, with the level of business travellers up 11 per cent and those here for education booming by 17 per cent, with this section of the market account for 29 per cent of the total spend breakdown. The number of backpackers visiting Australia fell by four per cent to 605,000 for the year.