Record Indian and Chinese touristsOverseas arrivals & departures; Weekly petrol
Tourism: Tourist arrivals fell by 1.7 per cent in December but were still up by 4 per cent on the year. Tourist departures fell by 1.6 per cent in the month to be down 0.3 per cent on the year.
Record Chinese & Indian tourists: Over the past year a record 1,382,800 tourists came to Australia from China, up by 13.3 per cent over the year. Tourists from India totalled 302,900 visitors over the past year – a record high – up 16.5 per cent over the year.
Top 2017 tourist destinations: The fastest growing markets for Aussie tourists include Croatia, Israel, Timor-Leste, Greece and Egypt.
Petrol: According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the national average Australian price of unleaded petrol rose by 1.0 cents to 135.4 cents a litre in the past week. The petrol figures have implications for retailers, especially petrol marketing groups. Tourism data is important for airlines, hotels and booking agents.
What does it all mean?
The tourism boom continues. A record number of Chinese and Indian tourists travelled to Australia in 2017.
China and India’s growing and more affluent middle class are attracted to Australia’s clean and unique environment, high quality restaurants and hotels, fresh food, safe cities, museums, art galleries and warm weather.
Some tourists are now venturing further afield to regional areas. The Bridestowe Lavender Estate in Nabowla Tasmania, for example, has experienced an estimated fourfold increase in tourists undertaking farm tours over the past decade, up from 20,000 visitors in 2007. The Ravens’ family estimates that over 60 per cent of visitors come from China.
Chinese tourism to Tasmania has increased by around 40 per cent over the year to September according to Tourism Tasmania. This has led to increased calls by tourism groups for direct airline routes between Hobart and mainland China.
And while much of the focus has been on Chinese tourism, Indian visitors are coming ‘Down Under’ in their droves. India’s economic growth is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to exceed China’s at 7-8 per cent over the next five years. Most are coming to visit family members studying in Sydney and Melbourne. Cricket pilgrimages to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Bradman Museum in Bowral are also a priority.
In 2017, Aussies’ preferred travel destinations were exotic – Croatia, Israel, Timor, Greece, Vietnam, Mauritius and the Cook Islands all made the top 12 fastest growing holiday locations.
Last week, Aussie petrol prices rose from 3-month lows. Global oil prices stabilised after prices had recorded their biggest falls in two years due to rising US production and heightened financial market volatility. Over the week, the Brent crude oil price rose by 3.3 per cent to US$64.84 a barrel. And the US Nymex price rose by 4.2 per cent to US$61.68 a barrel.
The increase in global petrol prices has already led to the RACQ warning Queensland motorists that petrol prices could potentially rise to 3-year highs in the state’s south-east in the coming week.
What do the figures show?Overseas arrivals & departures
Tourist arrivals fell by 1.7 per cent in December to 742,700, the lowest number of arrivals in six months.
Short-term resident returns (Aussies returning from holidays overseas) declined by 1.6 per cent to 876,700, the lowest number in five months.
In December, tourists from Greater China (China and Hong Kong) totalled 140,600 (mainland China 116,600; Hong Kong 24,000), ahead of New Zealand (111,100).
In annual terms, China is the largest source of tourists to Australia. Over the past year a record 1,382,800 tourists came to Australia from China, up by 13.3 per cent over the year. Tourists from New Zealand totalled 1,355,300 visitors over the past year, but were up just 1.3 per cent.
A record 302,900 Indian tourists travelled to Australia over the year to December, up by 16.5 per cent over the year.
In the year to December, the number of permanent and long-term arrivals to Australia totalled 778,220 while permanent and long-term departures totalled 517,650 – a record high. The net migration of 260,570 was the lowest in sixteen months, but off the recent low of 240,680 in the year to January 2016. The record high of 353,480 was set in the year to April 2009.
Petrol prices
According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the national average Australian price of unleaded petrol rose by 1.0 cents to 135.4 cents a litre in the past week. The metropolitan petrol price increased by 1.5 cents to 134.0 cents per litre, but the regional price decreased by 0.1 cents to 138.3 cents per litre.
Average unleaded petrol prices across states and territories over the past week were: Sydney (up by 11.5 cents to 136.0 c/l), Melbourne (down by 3.7 cents to 129.7 c/l), Brisbane (down by 5.0 cents to 127.3 c/l), Adelaide (up by 6.5 cents to 143.7 c/l), Perth (up by 0.1 cents to 137.6 c/l), Darwin (down by 0.1 cents to 149.3 c/l), Canberra (down by 0.1 cents to 148.3 c/l) and Hobart (down by 0.2 cents to 146.1 c/l). 
The national average Australian price of diesel petrol was unchanged at 139.1 cents per litre. The metropolitan price was unchanged at 139.8 c/l and the regional average price fell by 0.1 cents to 138.5 c/l.
Today, the national average wholesale (terminal gate) unleaded petrol price stands at 124.1 cents a litre, down by 1.2 cents over the week. The terminal gate diesel price stands at 124.9 cents a litre, down by 1.7 cents over the past week.
Last week the key Singapore gasoline price fell by US$1.25 or 1.6 per cent to US$75.00 a barrel. In Australian dollar terms the Singapore gasoline price last week fell by $3.86 or 3.9 per cent to $94.16 a barrel or 58.04 cents a litre – a 10-week low.
MotorMouth records the following average retail prices for capital cities today: Sydney 144.2c; Melbourne 139.3c; Brisbane 139.1c; Adelaide 139.4c; Perth 127.5c; Canberra 148.2c; Darwin 149.4c; Hobart 141.2c.
What is the importance of the economic data?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases data on overseas arrivals and departures is produced monthly and is an indicator of the health of the tourism sector. The figures are also useful in understanding spending trends and tracking migrant numbers – an indicator with widespread implications for employment, housing and spending.
Weekly figures on petrol prices are compiled by ORIMA Research on behalf of the Australian Institute of Petroleum (AIP). National average retail prices are calculated as the weighted average of each State/Territory’s metropolitan and non-metropolitan retail petrol prices, with the weights based on the number of registered petrol vehicles in each of these regions. AIP data for retail petrol prices is based on available market data supplied by MotorMouth.
What are the implications for interest rates and investors?
Tourism Australia spent $36 million on a Crocodile Dundee television ad during the Super Bowl in an attempt to lure American tourists to our shores. However, it is Chinese and Indian tourists that are coming to Australia in record numbers. The Indian cricket team tours Australia later this year, presenting another opportunity to boost tourist spending on hotels, restaurants, transport and retail.
India will be the world’s fastest growing economy over the next few years. As GDP per capita grows, so does the propensity to travel, offering huge potential for Australian tourism.
Petrol prices have risen from 3-month lows and have potential to rise further. If petrol prices do continue to increase, it will pressure household budgets. According to the Australian Automobile Association’s Transport Affordability Index, shifts in fuel prices nationally added $5.42 per week to transport costs for city households during the December quarter.
CommSec expects official interest rates to remain on hold for some time.
Published by Ryan Felsman, Senior Economist, CommSec