Resident Returns - Calendar year - 2020

Statistics on international travel, including tourism trips, arriving in and departing from Australia. Focusing on short-term trips (less than 1 year)

Released
17/08/2021

Resident Returns - Calendar year - 2020

Compares annual international travel for resident returns over time by destination country, by state and territory, by age and sex, by main reason for journey and by median duration of trip. All analysis in this section is done on short-term trips (less than 1 year).

Effects of COVID-19 outbreak

The World Health Organisation (WHO) commenced daily situation reports of the COVID-19 outbreak on 21 January 2020 and identified it as an international health emergency on 30 January. This was less than a month after suspected cases were reported in Wuhan, China. Initially the Australian Government placed travel restrictions on those travelling to Australia from mainland China commencing 1 February 2020. Restrictions on other countries soon followed. From 20 March 2020, all overseas travel was banned, with few exceptions. The pandemic has continued to disrupt international travel. For more information, see the Prime Minister's media release on border restrictions or the Smartraveller page from the Australian government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Key findings

Note: 92% of resident returns in 2020 occurred prior to travel restrictions implemented by the Australian Government on 20 March 2020.

Australian residents returning to Australia in 2020.

  • There were 2.8 million resident returns from overseas, down 75.0% on the previous year and the lowest since 1996 
  • New Zealand continued to be the leading destination country for Australians travelling overseas, accounting for 438,700 visitors nationally
  • The main reason for travel was 'holiday' (53.3%)
  • Nationally, the median duration away was 17 days.

Annual resident returns

There were 2.8 million resident trips overseas in 2020. This was down 75.0% on the previous year with 8.5 million fewer trips taken. This was the lowest annual number of resident trips since 1996.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial declines in travel movements since the introduction of border restrictions in March 2020.

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14.1 Short-term resident returns by month
2020'000% change(a)
Jan1,397.40.3
Feb785.45.3
Mar538.4-28.6
Apr17.0-98.1
May13.4-98.5
Jun15.8-98.1
Jul10.3-99.1
Aug8.1-99.1
Sep8.2-99.2
Oct11.2-99.0
Nov13.0-98.5
Dec14.3-98.1
Annual Total2,832.4-75.0

(a) Percentage change when compared to the same period of the previous year.

 

Australian residents travelling overseas have generally been increasing over recent decades, with a number of decreases observed over time due to various historical events (as seen in graph 14.2 below) such as the: 

  • Early 1990s recession in Australia
  • September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001
  • Bali bombings in 2002
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003
  • Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008

However, due to the impact of COVID-19, a substantial decline has been observed from March 2020 onwards. Prior to the pandemic, there were 11.4 million resident trips overseas in the year ending February 2020.

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Events impacting short-term resident returns include:

  • 1990: Recession
  • 2001: September 11 attacks
  • 2002: Bali bombings
  • 2003: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak
  • 2008: Global Financial Crisis (GFC)
  • 2020: COVID-19 outbreak from February onwards

Destination countries

In 2020: 

  • Short-term resident returns for all top 5 destination countries fell from early 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19
  • New Zealand (438,700 trips) remained the leading destination country
  • Indonesia (310,300) was the second most popular destination
  • The USA (235,500) was the third leading destination.
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(a) Top 5 destination countries based on year ending December 2020.
 

Among the top 10 destination countries, the strongest growth over the last decade was for Australians visiting Asian countries. Recent declines for these countries are due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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14.4 Short-term resident returns, Australia — Top 10 destination countries(a) — 2020
Destination Country'0002019 to 2020 (% change)2010 to 2020 (% change)
New Zealand438.7-70.0-58.6
Indonesia310.3-77.8-57.7
USA235.5-77.7-65.6
India186.2-56.312.2
Japan173.0-66.9-0.9
UK(b)146.9-77.9-69.9
China(c)122.1-79.9-62.8
Thailand117.8-78.3-73.1
Vietnam93.7-70.5-48.7
Singapore88.1-78.8-64.8

(a) Top 10 destination countries based on year ending December 2020.
(b) Includes United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.
(c) Excludes SARs and Taiwan.

State or territory of residence

All travellers are asked their intended address in Australia upon arrival.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of state borders were closed to international visitors at different times, as were a number of airports. 

In July 2020 National Cabinet agreed that all international passenger flight arrivals would be coordinated by the Commonwealth Government. This meant that the number of arrivals at each international airport was subject to caps agreed upon between federal and state and territory governments. For example, as part of this national coordinated approach, all international passenger flights into Victoria were cancelled from this time until 7 December 2020.

The proportion of short-term resident returns by their state or territory of residence in 2020 were as follows:

  • NSW (34.4% of all short-term resident returns)
  • Vic. (26.1%)
  • Qld (19.2%)
  • SA (4.0%)
  • WA (12.8%)
  • Tas. (0.8%)
  • NT (0.9%)
  • ACT (1.9%).

In 2010, this pattern was very similar with a slightly higher proportion of those travelling overseas from NSW (35.4%), WA (14.9%), SA (4.3%) and Tas. (1.0%).

All states and territories recorded growth in residents taking overseas trips in the ten year period up to early 2020. There was however, a significant drop from March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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At the state and territory level, the mix of destination countries varies from that at the national level.

During 2020:

  • New Zealand was the leading destination country for residents of NSW, Vic., Qld, Tas. and the ACT
  • Indonesia was the leading destination for those from SA, WA and the NT.

Ten years earlier in 2010, New Zealand was the leading destination for residents of all states and territories except for WA and the NT (for which Indonesia was the leading destination).

Age and sex

There were more trips taken overseas by Australian men than women in 2020 (1.5 million men compared with 1.4 million women), which is similar to 2010 (3.7 million men compared with 3.3 million women).

In 2020, Australian men and women travelling overseas had a similar median age (39 years and 37 years respectively). Among those aged 18 to 30, women took more trips than men. 

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Main reason for journey

The majority of resident returns (92%) in 2020 occurred prior to travel restrictions implemented by the Australian Government on 20 March 2020.

In 2020, the most frequently stated main reason for journey by Australian residents returning home after a short-term trip was:

  • Holiday (53%)
  • Visiting friends and relatives (32%)
  • Business (5%).

 

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(a) As a percentage of all returns.

Female resident returns were more likely than males to record their main reason for journey as:

  • Holiday
  • Visiting friends or relatives
  • Education.

Male resident returns were more likely than females to record their main reason for journey as:

  • Business
  • Employment
  • Convention/conference.
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14.8 Short-term resident returns, Australia — Main reason for journey and Sex — 2020
Main reason for journeyMales (%)Females (%)
Holiday51.854.8
Visiting friends/relatives30.234.7
Education1.31.5
Business8.02.7
Employment3.31.7
Convention/conference1.71.1
Other3.53.5
Total100.0100.0

Duration of stay

For Australian residents returning from overseas their exact duration away is measured.

During 2020, the median duration away for Australians on a short-term trip was 17 days. However, this varied between the states and territories and between the numerous destination countries. It also varied greatly depending on a traveller's main reason for journey.

In 2020, the median duration away overseas for those from the ACT and the NT was 18 days, whereas for those from Qld and WA it was 16 days. Those travelling to India were usually away for an average of 31 days, which was longer than all the other top 10 destinations. Those travelling to Indonesia were away for 10 days on average.

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14.9 Short-term resident returns, Australia — Top 10 destination countries(a) by State/Territory of Residence — Median duration of stay (days) — 2020
NSWVic.QldSAWATas.NTACTAust.(b)
India303231333225402931
China(c)273028302724293428
UK(d)262528252631212726
Vietnam202219231816211820
USA161719182219251917
Japan151615161518161715
Thailand141415131312201614
Singapore121312141014101212
New Zealand101011131514141111
Indonesia111010981191110
All countries171716171617181817

(a) Top 10 source countries have been calculated at the Australia level.
(b) Includes Other Territories.
(c) Excludes SARs and Taiwan.
(d) Includes United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

The duration of stay of short-term trips by Australian residents going overseas varied according to reason for journey:

  • Those travelling for education stayed away the longest (51 days)
  • Employment (37 days)
  • Visiting friends and relatives (24 days)
  • Holiday (14 days)
  • Business travellers stayed the shortest (8 days).