03 May Edu-tourism and the impact of international students
International students, their visiting friends and relatives and other edu-tourists make a significant contribution to Australia’s tourism industry. Rebecca Hall and Amy Godfrey crunch the data to find some surprising results.
Tourism and international education are often thought of as separate sectors, but there is a significant overlap in both definition and reporting. Tourism Research Australia’s International Visitor Survey (IVS) 2018 reported a record 8.5 million visitors, who spent $43.9 billion. Meanwhile, the Department of Education and Training reported that there were 693,750 international student visa holders in Australia in 2018, worth $34.9 billion in exports.
What many people don’t realise however, is that many international students are included in tourism numbers*. Of the 8.5 million international visitors reported by Tourism Australia, 576,575 stated their main purpose as education. This accounts for over 38 per cent of the total tourism spend in Australia. In 2018, Chinese spend in Australia by education visitors was larger than the total spend from both the US and UK for all purposes combined.
“Of the 8.5 million international visitors reported by Tourism Australia, 576,575 stated their main purpose as education. This accounts for over 38 per cent of the total tourism spend in Australia.”
Education visitors stay longer
According to Tourism Research Australia, visitors who state their main purpose of trip as education (education visitors) stay longer and spend more than leisure and business tourists. Education visitors stayed on average 136 nights, compared to 25 nights for all other purposes combined. They also spent $20,015 in Australia per trip, compared to $2,352 for other visitors in 2018.
Education visitors accounted for just 6.8 per cent of total international visitors, but due to their longer average stay, accounted for 28.7 per cent of total visitor nights, 28.7 per cent of total trip spend (including pre-arrival spend) and 38.2 per cent of spend in Australia in 2018. This share has increased steadily over the past five years.
Working holiday makers and visiting friends and relatives
In addition to the 577,000 visitors who stated their main purpose as education in 2018, a further 89,000 visitors completed a course during their trip to Australia but stated another main purpose of trip. These visitors spent $835 million in Australia and had a slightly shorter average stay of 108 days than education visitors (136 days). Almost half of these visitors were on working holiday maker visas, and the majority were studying English courses.
1 in 4 visitors whose main purpose was education had family or friends come to visit while studying during 2018. This resulted in 293,000 visitors contributing a further $1.1 billion to tourism spend in Australia.
The contribution from these combined sub-groups increases education’s share of total tourism spend from 38 per cent to 44.5 per cent.
In 2014, 57 per cent of international education visitors also had family or friends visit Australia after their course to attend their graduation ceremony (This question is no longer included in the IVS so is not available for more recent years).
Education related travel exports outperform leisure and business
Education related travel exports have experienced a period of rapid growth and, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, are outperforming leisure and business travel. Education related personal travel exports have grown faster than other travel exports in recent years, increasing its share from 49.9 per cent in 2014 to 57.6 per cent in 2018.
The increased value of education related travel has been larger than other personal related travel for the past five years – accounting for 97 per cent of the overall increase in 2017 and 76 per cent of the overall increase in 2018.
According the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), education exports are more valuable than other travel exports in NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and ACT and Australia overall, while personal and business travel exports are larger than education travel exports in QLD, WA, and NT.
The impact of education on tourism differs by state, with the ACT, SA and VIC most reliant on students for tourism expenditure. Canberra, Geelong and the Bellarine, and New England North West NSW are the top three tourism regions by share of education visitors to total visitors.
Without education, tourism would weaken – especially in key markets
When education related personal travel is excluded from total travel exports, the growth reduces from 11.2 per cent to 6.1 per cent.
When education visitors and flow on education visitors are excluded from TRA’s IVS in 2018:
– Visitor growth would reduce from 4.8 per cent to 3.9 per cent
– Visitor nights growth would reduce from 3.8 per cent to 1.4 per cent, and
– Spend in Australia growth would reduce from 8.0 per cent to 2.0 per cent.
China, Thailand and India are the tourism markets with the highest reliance on education – with 16 per cent, 13 per cent and 6 per cent share of visitors and 65 per cent, 55 per cent and 49 per cent share of spend in Australia respectively.
So what does this all mean? The data clearly shows the interdependence between international education and tourism – an area that has not been well documented and or understood to date. Collectively, the benefit of international students, their visiting friends and relatives and other short-stay edu-tourists make a significant contribution to Australia’s economic prosperity and cultural outlook.
Let’s continue to put out the welcome mat and ensure that those who visit Australia leave with a positive experience and continue to act as our best ambassadors when they return back home.
Rebecca Hall is the Global Education Lead at Austrade. Amy Godfrey is an Adviser, International Education and Tourism Strategy at Austrade.
* Tourism Research Australia’s International Visitor Survey includes visitors on all visa types if they are aged over 15 years and in Australia for less than 12 months.