Agents are pushing travel Down Under, Aussies say By Jonathan Siskin / June 21, 1999 Share 1 -- SYDNEY, Australia -- Travel agents and tour operators in North America are selling more Australia packages and travel products than ever as arrivals from the U.S. and Canada reached almost a half-million (473,000) in 1998, up more than 13% from 1997, according to the Australian Tourism Commission. And the outlook for the next few years is even better, according to Jackie Kelly, Australia's minister of sport and tourism. Speaking at a news conference at the 1999 Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre here last month, Kelly said the next 12 months will be some of the most exciting in Australia's history."The combined impact of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, record promotional activity and use of Internet technology gives us the opportunity to begin the new millennium [by] attracting more overseas tourists than ever before and becoming one of the hottest holiday destinations on Earth," said Kelly.Kelly said that during the five days of ATE, Australia was expecting to negotiate "more than $1 million [Australian] worth of tourism business every working minute, and by the end of the week, Australia's economy will have been boosted by around $2.5 billion [Australian].""No other event in Australia earns more foreign exchange in one week than ATE." Tourism is now the giant of the Australian economy, worth more than $39 billion (U.S.) annually and employing one out of every eight Australian workers.Organized and coordinated by the Australian Tourist Commission, ATE is Australia's premier trade show. Attendance at this year's ATE consisted of 700 international buyers from 48 countries, along with 1,500 Australian tourism sellers.North America was represented by a contingent of 96 buyers.From January 1998 to January 1999, arrivals from the U.S. registered 12 consecutive months of growth, highlighted by eight months of double-digit growth.The average stay of U.S. visitors to Australia is 25 nights, and Americans are generally big spenders, with an average per person expenditure of $1,448 (excluding international air fares and prepaid packages).The U.S. ranks third of 14 major markets in total annual spending, behind Japan and the U.K. Australian tourism officials are forecasting double-digit annual growth from North America to continue. For 1999, arrivals from North America are projected at 492,000, with 414,000 of those from the U.S.North American arrivals are expected to reach an all-time high of 545,000 in 2000, with 462,000 of those from the U.S.