PASADENA, Calif. — When the Australian Tourism Commission first started marketing the country in 1967, the country recorded 222,000 international guests who spent about $74 million a year. Fifty years later, in 2017, some 8 million international visitors spent more than $41 billion in Australia.
That includes more than $3.75 billion in expenditures by U.S. travelers, who have approximately doubled their Australia spending in the past five years.
"We've seen 10% growth among American travelers in recent months," Steven Ciobo, Australia's minister for trade, tourism and investment, said at this week's 2018 Australia Tourism Summit.
Tourism Australia, as the government agency responsible for attracting international visitors is known today, hosted the sixth annual summit at the Langham Huntington here, drawing more than 200 tourism officials, hoteliers, airline representatives, tour operators and other industry professionals, along with media from the U.S. and Canada.
According to Tourism Australia's September 2017 International Market Update, 753,300 Americans visited Australia in the 12 months ending in June 2017. That marked a 14% increase over the previous year, and it was the first time that arrivals from the U.S. topped 750,000.
The gains follow a strong 2016 calendar year, when the U.S. was Australia's fourth largest inbound market. The 711,400 American arrivals represented a 16% increase over the previous year. Guests from the U.S. spent $3.7 billion in 2016, making the country Australia's third largest market for total visitor spend.
Some of Australia's strongest American markets include California, Texas, New York, Florida and Washington.
During the Pasadena event, Ciobo reported that new hotels, new attractions, favorable exchange rates and increased air capacity have helped to spark the recent boost in business. Some 20,000 hotel rooms are in the investment pipeline nationwide, and new routes like United's direct Dreamliner service from Houston to Sydney offer attractive nonstop alternatives for travelers.
Over the past five years, the number of direct routes connecting North America and Australia has grown from 90 to more than 130.
John O'Sullivan, CEO, Tourism Australia
Safety and security are also important factors among the Americans who choose to visit Australia, along with food and wine, coastal attractions, nature, and overall cultural affinities.
Ciobo added that U.S. and Canadian travelers have been eager to incorporate one-of-a-kind attractions and activities into their travel plans. Tourism Australia is increasing its marketing outreach to both business and leisure travelers in North America, promoting everything from unique accommodations to culinary activities to authentic experiences at iconic destinations like Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock).
"Even if someone has been to Australia before, they can come back and expect to see something new," said Ciobo.
John O'Sullivan, managing director and CEO for Tourism Australia, added that his team has seen an increased interest in experiential travel.
"Guests don't want to just look at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example. They want to climb it. They don't just want to taste the wine. They want to meet the winemakers and learn about the craft," he said. "We think Australia still has so much opportunity in the North American market, and we're excited about those opportunities."