International travel below pre-COVID levels but taking off

  • By Zilla Efrat

International travel is taking off with the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) provisional data showing 1.2 million international border crossings to and from Australia in April – a massive jump from 710,000 border crossings in March.

The increase, according to the ABS, represents a large change from a year ago when there were only 118,000 movements. However, this was still only a third (34 per cent) of the pre-COVID travel seen in April 2019, when there were 3.5 million border crossings.

“With international borders re-opening in February and the Easter long weekend and school holidays in April, we have seen an increase in arrivals and departures,” says ABS director of migration statistics, Jenny Dobak.

“There were 580,000 overseas arrivals and 610,000 overseas departures in April 2022, the largest number of travellers since the start of the pandemic.”

On 21 February 2022, remaining travel restrictions were removed and the Australian border opened to tourists and other international travellers.

ABS data for March shows 162,000 visitors arriving in Australia for a short-term trip. The majority (63 per cent) indicated their main reason for travel was visiting friends or family.

The largest source country for short-term visitors arriving in March was the United Kingdom (27,000), followed by New Zealand (19,000) and India (15,000).

The states with the highest number of visitors arriving for a short-term trip were New South Wales (59,000) and Victoria (45,000).

“Aussies are dusting off their passports and heading overseas on holidays in increasing numbers,” says Ryan Felsman, a senior economist at CommSec.

“In fact, there were 611,030 overseas departures from Australia in April, the most in over two years. But departures remain well below the 1.29 million people that left the country in February 2020, prior to pandemic international border restrictions.”

Felsman says there were 575,530 overseas arrivals in April – also the highest number of people since international border restrictions were imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

“Arrivals have been steadily increasing since December 2021 (196,170), with 265,260 (January 2022), 271,260 (February 2022) and 374,630 (March 2022) people entering the country at the beginning of 2022.

“And while momentum is building, the numbers are still very low when compared to pre-pandemic levels, with 1.57 million overseas arrivals recorded in February 2020.

“In April, the majority of arrivals were returning Aussie citizens (253,610), followed by citizens of New Zealand (67,110), India (45,430), UK (36,480) and the US (16,450).

“Of these arrivals, 21,420 were people given temporary student visas; 20,190 people entered Australia on permanent skilled visas; 8,970 received temporary skilled visas; and 8,590 entered on temporary work visas. The data points to the strength of local demand, but suggests that labour supply will only gradually increase at a time when skilled worker shortages are acute in some occupations.”