Visitor Arrivals - 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

Visitor Arrivals - Calendar year - 2020

Compares annual international travel arrivals over time by source 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: 97% of visitor arrivals in 2020 occurred prior to travel restrictions implemented by the Australian Government on 20 March 2020.

Visitors arriving in Australia in 2020.

  • There were 1.8 million visitor arrivals, down 80.7% on the previous year and the lowest since 1987
  • New Zealand was the largest source country, accounting for 242,500 visitors nationally
  • There were more visits by women than men. Ten years earlier, the opposite was true
  • The main reason for travel was 'holiday' (43.2%)
  • Nationally, the median duration of stay in Australia was 14 days.

Annual visitor arrivals

There were 1.8 million visitor arrivals in 2020. This was down 80.7% on the previous year with 7.6 million fewer arrivals. This was the lowest annual number of visitors since 1987.

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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13.1 Short-term visitor arrivals by month
2020'000% change(a)
Jan766.64.8
Feb685.4-26.1
Mar331.9-60.3
Apr2.2-99.7
May3.4-99.5
Jun5.4-99.2
Jul3.5-99.6
Aug3.0-99.6
Sep3.7-99.5
Oct6.1-99.2
Nov7.6-99.1
Dec8.8-99.2
Annual Total1,827.7-80.7

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

 

Visitor arrivals to Australia have generally been increasing over recent decades, with a strong continuous increase over the past ten years (as seen in graph 13.2 below).

  • Peaks were seen during the Brisbane Expo in 1988 and the Sydney Olympics in 2000
  • Decreases were experienced during the Asian financial crisis in 1998, after the 2001 September 11 attacks in the USA, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008.

However, due to the impact of COVID-19, a substantial decline has been observed from February 2020 onwards. Prior to the pandemic, there were a record 9.5 million visitors to Australia in the year ending January 2020.

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Events impacting short-term visitor arrivals include:

  • 1988: Brisbane Expo
  • 1998: Asian financial crisis
  • 2000: Sydney Olympics
  • 2001: September 11 attacks
  • 2003: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak
  • 2008: Global Financial Crisis (GFC)
  • 2020: COVID-19 outbreak from February onwards

Source countries

Travel restrictions have resulted in a change in the source countries of visitors to Australia.

In 2020:

  • Short-term visitor arrivals for all top 5 source countries fell from early 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • New Zealand (242,500 visits) was the largest source country for visitor arrivals
  • China (207,700) was the second largest.

In 2019, the reverse was true when China was the largest and New Zealand the second largest.

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(a) Top 5 source countries based on year ending December 2020.
(b) Excludes SARs and Taiwan.
(c) Includes United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Among the top 10 source countries, there was strong growth from Asian countries over the last decade. Recent declines for these countries are due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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13.4 Short-term visitor arrivals, Australia — Top 10 source countries(a) — 2020
Country of Residence'0002019 to 2020 (% change)2010 to 2020 (% change)
New Zealand242.5-83.1-78.9
China(b)207.7-85.6-54.0
UK(c)200.8-71.9-70.2
USA188.7-76.9-60.6
Japan91.7-81.6-76.9
India84.0-79.0-39.4
Hong Kong60.9-80.7-59.5
Singapore58.3-87.8-78.0
Korea, South53.5-80.9-75.5
Germany53.0-74.4-68.1

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

State or territory of stay

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 visitor arrivals by intended state or territory in 2020 were as follows:

  • NSW (36.6% of all short-term visitors)
  • Vic. (27.6%)
  • Qld (19.2%)
  • SA (3.2%)
  • WA (10.3%)
  • Tas. (1.3%)
  • NT (0.6%)
  • ACT (1.2%). 

In 2010 this pattern was slightly different, with more visitors intending to stay in Qld than in Vic.

All states recorded growth in international visitors in the ten year period up to early 2020. In comparison, the territories experienced fluctuations in visitor numbers, particularly the Northern Territory. All states and territories observed a significant drop in visitor numbers from March 2020.

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

During 2020:

  • The USA was the leading source country for NSW and the NT
  • China provided the most visitors for Vic. and the ACT
  • New Zealand provided the most visitors for Qld and Tas.
  • The UK provided the most visitors for SA and WA.

Ten years earlier in 2010, New Zealand was the leading source country for NSW, Vic., Qld, SA, and Tas. However, the UK was the leading source country for WA, and the USA for the NT and the ACT.

Age and sex

There were more visits to Australia by women than men in 2020 (935,500 women compared with 892,200 men). The opposite was true in 2010 (3.0 million men and 2.8 million women). 

In 2020, both men and women visiting Australia had a median age of 40 years. The largest group of visitor arrivals was aged between 25 and 29 years, with the largest source country for this age group being China. 

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Main reason for journey

The majority of arrivals (97%) 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 short-term visitors to Australia was:

  • Holiday (43.2%)
  • Visiting friends and relatives (30.2%)
  • Education (9.9%)
  • Business (6.6%).
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(a) As a percentage of all arrivals.

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

  • Holiday
  • Visiting friends or relatives
  • Education.

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

  • Business
  • Employment
  • Convention/conference.
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13.8 Short-term visitor arrivals, Australia — Main reason for journey and Sex — 2020
Main reason for journeyMales (%)Females (%)
Holiday40.845.4
Visiting friends/relatives27.133.2
Education9.710.0
Business10.23.2
Employment4.72.7
Convention/conference2.61.6
Other4.93.8
Total100.0100.0

Duration of stay

Visitors are asked their intended duration in Australia upon arrival.

During 2020, the median duration of stay in Australia was 14 days. However, this varied between the states and territories and between the numerous source countries. It also varied depending on a traveller's main reason for journey.

In 2020, the median duration of days for those visiting the ACT was 30 days, whereas for Qld it was 11 days. Those from India (with a median duration of stay of 84 days) stated their intention to stay longer than most others, but this also varied between the states and territories. Those from Japan only visited for 6 days on average.

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13.9 Short-term visitor arrivals, Australia — Top 10 source countries(a) by State/Territory of stay — Median duration of stay (days) — 2020
NSWVic.QldSAWATas.NTACTAust.(b)
India6291629180921529184
Germany20222228272143122
UK(c)181921232221192120
China(d)1823166215171615220
Hong Kong12121215119103012
USA101212141515301411
Korea (South)8141126141489110
Singapore899118117108
New Zealand668711111477
Japan7761579796
All countries131511221715203014

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

The median duration of stay of short-term visitors to Australia varied according to reason for journey:

  • Those travelling for education (174 days) and employment (123 days) stayed the longest
  • Visiting friends and relatives (20 days)
  • Holiday (10 days)
  • Business travellers and those attending conventions/conferences stayed the shortest (7 days each).