The one tourist destination that’s bigger than pre-COVID

While Australians were back travelling overseas again in 2022, overall numbers remained much lower than before the pandemic. However, there is one exception: Fiji is the one major tourist destination where the number of Australian visitors surpassed that of 2019.

Australian residents took 167,710 trips to Fiji in the last five months of 2022, compared to 162,260 in 2019. That’s up 3.3 per cent on pre-COVID levels, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data.

Tourism Fiji data shows Australian visitor arrivals for December shot up 55 per cent above 2019 levels, with more than 42,000 travelling to the Pacific nation that month – the highest number ever for this market.

Fiji Bureau of Statistics data shows Australia was the number one source market in 2022 with 345,149 visitors, followed by New Zealand with 152,863.

Sydney woman Kate McGrath, 26, counts herself among Australia’s biggest Fiji holiday devotees. She visited Fiji twice last year, and has already booked her next two trips.

“I’m going back in July – I got a really good deal with DoubleTree Hilton. Then in September, I’m going again to spend my birthday there,” McGrath said.

It’s the warmth of both the people and the tropical weather that keeps her returning again and again.

“The people are amazing; always happy and smiling and saying ‘Bula!’ constantly. The weather’s stunning – I always travel in the winter time and it’s such a great escape,” she said.

It’s not just the number of Australian visitors increasing – they’re spending more and staying longer, too. 

The average visitor stay length has gone up from five nights pre-COVID to 9.7 nights, while the average tourist spend has surged 12 per cent to $251 a night.

For Melbourne-based Hannah Rowlands, a splurge on a $7000 luxury, six-night, all-inclusive holiday to Fiji last October with her partner felt justified.

“Given it had been about three years since either of us had had a proper holiday and we hadn’t spent anything on travel, we didn’t want to limit ourselves in terms of budget, where we stayed or the activities we did,” said Rowlands. 

“The shortish flight time appealed to me, as someone who doesn’t like flying … once borders reopened, there were also a lot of really good all-inclusive deals.”

Cherie Timms, from Bellingen, on the mid-north coast of NSW, was impressed by the overall value of Fiji compared to Australia after holidaying there with her husband last November.

“The entire cost of our holiday was roughly $4000, which included flights, transfers, accommodation and all-inclusive meals and drinks,” said Timms.

The duo had done a Northern Territory trip in June, where the cost of fuel alone was $2500.

“For us to go back to beautiful Fiji was a no-brainer from every angle. Travelling domestically within Australia was disheartening from a cost point of view,” said the transport worker.

Luxury Escapes co-founder and chief executive Adam Schwab noted Australians’ interest in Fiji has been further bolstered by good air capacity and connections, and a satisfactory currency exchange compared to other destinations.

“The Fijian dollar has remained pretty consistent. [The Australian dollar] is now trading at about $FJ1.50, which is where it has been really for the past three or four years, compared to the US dollar which is [trading] much weaker than previously,” said Schwab.

That, along with money saved during the pandemic, has allowed his clients to trade up on things like accommodation and holiday add-ons.

“Someone who would’ve gone to a three-star place is now going to a four-star or a five-star,” he said.

It’s promising news for the tourism-dependent country which, in the five months after ditching pre-departure COVID-19 test requirements (April to August), earned $FJ805 million ($A534 million).

Before COVID, tourism contributed almost 40 per cent to Fiji’s gross domestic product, amounting to about $FJ2 billion ($A1.4 billion).

Fiji was one of the first Pacific nations to rebound tourism-wise after borders reopened, quickly establishing a no-quarantine “bula bubble” with Australia. Fiji became the number one destination for Australians in December 2021 with more than 8000 residents returning from trips there, according to ABS data.

Travel momentum to the tropical destination steadily crept up throughout 2022. After peaking at 38,440 trips in July, Australian visitor numbers have remained above 30,000 every month since.

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