Number of international visitors to Australia: guide for 2023

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions, Australia’s international visitor numbers have declined substantially in recent years. There is, however, some good news for the tourism industry, with borders opening up around the world and in Australia.

Picture: swimmers swimming in beach side pool at Bondi Beach

Pictured: swimmers at Bondi Beach beachside pool, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Key takeaways

  • There has been a significant decline in Australia’s international visitor numbers due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.
  • Tourism contributed significantly to Australia’s economy before COVID, accounting for 3.1% of Australia’s GDP and supporting over 600,000 jobs.
  • China’s top spot as the country with the most visitors to Australia has been lost to New Zealand due to China’s travel restrictions.
  • There are many reasons why people visit Australia, including leisure travel, visiting family and friends, conducting business, studying, and more.
  • Leisure travellers are drawn to Australia’s natural beauty and cultural experiences, such as the Great Barrier Reef and vibrant cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
  • Business travellers are attracted to Australia’s strategic location in the Asia Pacific region, world-class facilities, and multicultural society.
  • Australia’s world-renowned universities and high-quality education system make it an attractive destination for educational tourism.

Pre-COVID, the tourism sector significantly contributed to Australia’s economy, with tourism GDP accounting for 3.1% of Australia’s GDP and supporting over 600,000 jobs.

With over $60 billion in revenue generated by the tourism industry, overseas visitors to Australia contributed significantly to the Australian economy.

The tourism industry generates considerable revenue in Australian dollars, contributing to the country’s foreign exchange earnings, while Australian residents also contribute significantly to the tourism industry, with domestic travel accounting for over 74% of all tourism expenditure in 2019.

The Australian government and tourism operators have been working hard to restore tourism levels to normal by promoting sustainable tourism and supporting Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Which countries visit Australia the most

When we look at Australia’s number of arrivals in 2022, we find that the top ten source countries for international tourists are New Zealand, India, the United Kingdom, Singapore, United States, China, Canada, Indonesia, Germany and Malaysia.

This looks substantially different to pre-COVID levels where China was in the number one spot for many years, including in 2019.

Graph showing the number of international visitors by country.

Graph: international visitors to Australia by country

New Zealand

In the top spot of all international visitors, New Zealanders are a significant source of international tourists to Australia, thanks to the proximity and strong cultural ties between the two countries.

As part of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, New Zealanders can travel to Australia without needing a visa, making visiting for leisure and business easy and convenient.

The country is also a favourite destination for reunions and celebrations among New Zealanders, who often visit family and friends there.

India

India is the fastest-growing source of international tourists to Australia. Visitors from India make up a significant proportion of the country’s overall tourism market, coming in at number two.

The Australian government and tourism industry have been working to further promote Australia as a desirable destination for Indian tourists. It’s also no coincidence that one of Australia’s largest populations of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) citizens are from an Indian background, naturally opening the door to the tourism category of visiting Australia to see family and friends.

China

Although China doesn’t even make the top 5, it is extremely noteworthy to mention since Chinese tourists were the largest group of international visitors to Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic by a mile—with over 1.4 million visitors in the last year before the pandemic.

As the largest source country for international visitors to Australia, Chinese visitors accounted for 15% of all international visitors.

Reasons people visit Australia

As Australia’s third-largest export, there are many reasons people visit Australia. The most common reasons international tourists travel to Australia include leisure travel, visiting family and friends, conducting business, studying and more. We’ll explore some of these below.

Educational tourism

Due to its world-renowned universities, high-quality education system, and diverse cultural experiences, Australia is a popular educational tourism destination. The tourism industry in Australia is significantly impacted by international students, who account for approximately 10% of all international visitors.

Bar graph displaying number of international student visitors to Australia

Graph: number of international visitors to Australia by student visa type: 2021 – 2022

Some of the world’s top universities are in Australia, including the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, and the University of Sydney.

Its reputation as a global leader in education and research, combined with its rich cultural experiences and natural wonders, makes Australia a top destination for educational tourism.

International student on University grounds

International students account for almost 10% of international visitors to Australia

Leisure travel

Leisure travellers from all over the world flock to Australia. Its breathtaking natural beauty is one of the main reasons people in this category visit Australia. The country boasts a diverse range of landscapes, from the Gold Coast’s stunning beaches to the Outback’s rugged wilderness.

Visitors can explore ancient rainforests, hike in national parks, swim with dolphins, and witness the spectacular beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.

In addition to its vibrant cities, like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, Australia offers a rich cultural experience, world-class dining, and endless entertainment. The country is also famous for its laid-back lifestyle, friendly locals, and warm year-round climate.

Business travellers

Thanks to its thriving economy and strategic location in the Asia Pacific region, Australia is a popular destination for international business travellers. The tourism industry also benefits from Australia’s domestic business travellers thanks to Australia’s size and population.

Many global companies establish their Asia Pacific offices in Australia to cater for their Asian markets and the southern hemisphere. Australia’s multicultural society and openness to international trade also make it a prime destination for companies looking to expand into the Asia-Pacific market.

Australia’s cities also have world-class business facilities, including convention centres, meeting rooms, and state-of-the-art technology.

The country’s robust infrastructure and skilled workforce make it an attractive location for industries such as finance, mining, technology, and healthcare.

Where do people visit Australia

International visitors account for over 60% of all international inbound tourists in Australia, with many visiting for the first time. The majority arrive between December and February when summer is in full swing.

The most popular tourist destinations in Australia for international visitors are the major cities alongside Bondi Beach, and the Great Barrier Reef.

The city centre of Sydney is the leading destination for international tourists in Australia, with around 30% of all international visitors spending time in this area.

The most popular destinations for international visitors were Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, with each city receiving over 2 million visitors.

The Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales are two of the most popular destinations for international tourists, with over 40% of all international visitors spending time in these areas.

Sydney Opera House

Pictured: Sydney Opera House, one of the most rated destinations by tourists to Australia

Getting back to pre-COVID levels and beyond

The number of international visitors to Australia in the last year before the pandemic was close to 9 million, with most coming from China, New Zealand, and the United States.

To put things into context, consider the following numbers according to Tourism Research Australia based on the financial year of 2019-2020 (pre-pandemic);

  • Western Australia had the highest growth in international overnight tourists, with an increase of 9%
  • The Northern Territory had the highest growth in same-day visitors, with an increase of 12%.
  • South Australia steadily increased international tourists with an annual growth rate of 3.9%, according to Tourism Australia.

Since border restrictions were eased, the Australian government and tourism operators have been working to promote domestic travel and attract foreign tourists.

One initiative is Zero COVID, a concept introduced in Australia to reopen international borders while maintaining a COVID-free environment.

Even though travel costs have increased, efforts have not been in vain. The RBA reports that visitor numbers in Australian tourism have recovered to around 85% of pre-pandemic levels.

However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that the number of international visitors to Australia in December 2022 was 39.8% lower than pre-COVID levels.

The ABS data also shows that the number of international tourists arriving in Australia by air decreased by 80%, with international flights decreasing by 95% in the previous year.

Where to find more information and research

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data provides historical data on the number of international visitors, their usual residence, and the total number of visitor nights. The ABS collection methods include surveys of international travellers and crew members, border statistics and other travel data.

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission provides an interactive dashboard with industry performance data, external debt, and current accounts.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) looks at the global tourism industry and how it has been affected by COVID to suggest ways for rebuilding and recovering tourism.