Twice as many Australians are flying out of the country compared to travellers arriving, Sydney Airport’s CEO has revealed.
Speaking to the AFR, Geoff Culbert argued there is still “a lot of work to do” to convince international airlines to rebuild their networks and then persuade tourists to return.
“Pre-COVID, the proportion of Australians’ travel overseas to international visitors arriving was almost 50:50. Now it’s 65:35, so for every international visitor coming in, we have two Australian residents heading out,” he said.
“Getting more international capacity into the system needs to be the priority for 2023.”
Australian Aviation has been reporting for months on the discrepancy between domestic and international recoveries.
The latest set of data released by the Department of Transport, for instance, shows how the number of international seats for sale – or capacity – is down 45 per cent on pre-pandemic numbers, industry-wide.
It has meant that international flights are now jam-packed, with 90 per cent of seats full, in what is likely to be one of the highest occupancy rates in history.
The knock-on effect has been that tourists are failing to return to Australia in great numbers, despite months without COVID-19 restrictions.
Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed there were 370,000 “short-term overseas arrivals” in September 2022, compared to 695,000 in September 2019.
However, across the 2021-2022 financial year, just 18 per cent of those listed their reason for coming to the country as being to holiday, compared to 56 per cent who cited visiting friends or relatives.
The data appears to corroborate the observation made by Adelaide Airport’s MD, Brenton Cox, on the Australian Aviation Podcast.
“Right now, probably most of the people coming from overseas are doing so to visit friends and relatives, or for essential business,” he said. “The big free, independent travellers haven’t quite made their way here yet.”
Cox said he believed Australia’s COVID-19 response — which saw state borders open and close and a high-profile incident involving Novak Djokovic — deter casual visitors.
“I just remember looking at the scenes when Djokovic was being booted out of the Australian Open. And at that moment, you went, ‘Wow, it’s a lot of eyeballs on this.’
“And there are a lot of people who — similar to the state border risk — thought, ‘Well, if I come to this country, am I going to be trapped? Or am I going to be stuck in a detention centre?’”
By comparison, domestic aviation is now on the brink of returning to full pre-COVID levels, with Christmas 2022 likely to be the busiest in years.