In comparison to February 2019, when Australian tourism was flying high, international passenger numbers in February this year are down a whopping 82 per cent.
Sydney Airport boss Geoff Culbert said “a two-speed recovery” was emerging between between domestic and international passengers.
Domestic passengers are almost back to 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels and “growing strongly”, compared to international numbers which are edging up but still below 20 per cent.
Despite the heavy hit to international passenger numbers, so crucial to Australia’s battered tourism industry, promising green shoots of recovery are evident.
Over the past 12 months, international passenger numbers into Sydney airport have risen 700 per cent, up from 28,000 passengers in February 2021 to 230,000 last month.
In February 2019, 1.3 million international passengers moved through the terminal.
The data reflects just how long it will take for the tourism industry to bounce back, even though most restrictions have lifted in Australia and many countries around the world.
Since Australia slammed its borders shut, the tourism sector has been hemorrhaging an estimated $4 billion every month.
Mr Culbert said international airlines are slowly beginning to make more flights into Australia.
“By the end of this March we will have 12 of the 21 international airlines who stopped flying to Sydney during the pandemic back flying regular services,” he said.
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Despite Australia’s borders being open to international travellers for some months, tough COVID-19 restrictions in New Zealand and China have stopped tourists from Australia’s two biggest inbound markets from visiting.
Before the pandemic hit, tourists from China accounted for almost a third of all travellers into Australia and they were by far the biggest spenders, generously opening their wallets at cities and tourist hot spots from coast-to-coast.
In 2019, 1.4 million Chinese tourists spent a whopping $12.2 billion – more than one quarter of the entire international tourism spend – according to data provided to 9news.com.au by Australia’s peak tourism body, the Tourism and Transport Forum.
That huge Chinese spend has fallen off a cliff, plunging 99.4 per cent to just $76 million in 2021, TFF figures showed.
Tourism was Australia’s fifth most valuable export pre-pandemic, according to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.