The unlikely city leading the tourism boom
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A surge in international flights to Canberra has been a “game-changer” for the national capital, which has posted the highest growth in overseas visitor numbers in the country.

Canberra recorded a 7.1 per cent rise in international visitor numbers in the year to June 2019 – three times higher than the average across the states and territories – according to data from Tourism Research .


Alivio general Rod Thomas says bookings at the Canberra tourist park are often made a year ahead for summer holidays.  Sean Davey

“It has been a game-changer for us,” said ACT chief minister Andrew Barr, who is also the country’s longest-serving tourism minister.

The figures have underlined the strength of Canberra’s hotel market, which is often full during peak periods.

“For the last two weeks over the school holidays, we’ve pretty much run on about 97 [to] 98 per cent capacity,” Alivio Tourist Park general manager Rod Thomas said.

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“Demand for accommodation has continually grown [in Canberra] and every time we invest on a yearly basis we see the benefit of that investment.”

Following about $20 million in investment over the past seven years, the privately owned Alivio Group now has 186 cabins, motel rooms and other accommodation offerings at its property in O’Connor.

“With the peak periods, we reach capacity during those periods pretty much every time,” Mr Thomas said.

While ACT ranked second behind Tasmania on unadjusted arrival numbers released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday, comparable trend figures reported last week placed the capital in top spot.

In addition to growth in international visitors, the ACT also tops the country in the number of Australian tourists per capita.

In the year to June, the territory had 6.8 domestic tourists visit for every resident. By contrast, the average across the states and territories was 4.5 domestic visitors per resident.

The accommodation sector is not as buoyant elsewhere, with hoteliers in struggling to fill beds after an increase in supply over the past couple of years.

Data from industry intelligence firm STR shows an occupancy rate of 71 per cent in Brisbane for the year to August – the second lowest out of the eight capital cities, after Darwin.

By contrast, topped the capitals with an 82.5 per cent occupancy rate over the same period, according to STR.

Canberra’s success in attracting international tourists has been primarily driven by a rise in the number of flights heading directly to the city from international gateways.

Airlines started in September 2016 [and] Qatar Airways began in 2017, so they’ve both been flying for three years and sort of two years effectively,” Mr Barr said.

“And Singapore Airlines initially started with four flights a week and they’ve now moved to a daily service.”

This meant visitors could fly to Canberra from several European and Asian cities with only one stop such as Singapore or Doha, he said.

Similarly, new Tiger Airways services from and Brisbane have introduced cheap airfares for local visitors.

Growth from South Asia

For the ACT and a number of the states, remains the largest source country for international visitors, accounting for 16 per cent of all arrivals in August.

However, the ABS data released this week confirmed thegrowing importance of arrivals from South Asia.

The year-on-year increase in visitor numbers from India was 17.5 per cent, which meantthe country continued as the highest source of growth.

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