Budget fares a magnet for overseas tourists

FOREIGN tourists are travelling to Australia in record numbers despite the high dollar, a trend the tourism industry is attributing partly to an increase in the number of flights by budget airlines and cheap air fares.

FOREIGN tourists are travelling to Australia in record numbers despite the high dollar, a trend the tourism industry is attributing partly to an increase in the number of flights by budget airlines and cheap air fares.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Statistics show that the number of people travelling here rose by 0.8 per cent in November, compared with October.

International arrivals were 6.9 per cent higher than a year ago.

Australians are continuing to travel overseas in large numbers, with the number of people flying abroad for holidays or business rising by 2.5 per cent in November. For the year to November, almost 8.18 million overseas visits were made by Australians, an all-time high.

The number of Chinese visitors rose by about 14 per cent in November on the same month in 2011, while Malaysian and Thai tourist numbers rose by 35 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

China is now Australia's second-largest source of foreign tourists.

The industry's peak body, the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF), said an increase in the number of flights by budget airlines, such as Malaysia's AirAsia and Singapore's Scoot, cheap fares and marketing campaigns in key countries had helped to boost the growth in visitor numbers from Asian countries.

China's biggest airlines have made substantial increases in the number of flights to Australia in the past two years. And despite the strong dollar, traditional tourism markets also improved in November; visitors from the US and Japan rose by almost 9 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Although the number of British visitors rose by 3.4 per cent in November, that was down by almost 5 per cent for the year to November 2012 compared with 2011.

TTF blamed the fall in the number of British tourists on "excessive aviation taxes". Australian airports have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the surge in overseas visitors and holidaying Australians. In contrast, its airlines have not fared as well as the intense competition on many routes erodes their earnings.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia had minor teething problems with its new booking and reservations system on its first day.

There were delays of up to 40 minutes at Sydney Airport on Monday, the airline's head of corporate affairs, Danielle Keighery, said, but on a network-wide basis the switch to Sabre's global distribution system had "gone reasonably well" and no flights were cancelled.

Some passengers had problems logging into Virgin's website on Monday morning but the problem was later resolved.

So far, the biggest challenge has been a big increase in the number of passengers turning up at Virgin's counters at airports because they could not access the airline's website at the weekend to check in.

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