By Gemma Greenwood
GCC tourists visiting Australia up 21% year-on-year, region among country's top 30 inbound markets.
The number of GCC travellers visiting Australia has increased 21% for the eight months to August 2007, compared to the same period last year, according to Tourism Australia (TA).
TA, the state authority tasked with promoting Australia as a tourism destination, also revealed that the Gulf region is now one of the country's top 30 inbound markets and accounted for 0.9% of all international expenditure in the country during 2006.
TA GCC distribution development manager Andrew Oldfield said the increase was due to factors such as a relaxation of visa restrictions, an increase in flights from the region and increased awareness of what the country has to offer amongst the region's travel trade.
"It's now easier to get a visa for most GCC nationals, including Saudi Arabians who no longer need to hand their passport over to get a visa," he said.
Travellers from the Gulf spent A$206 million ($181 million) on trips to Australia during 2006 and the average expenditure per person was A$5,870 ($5,160), including prepaid international airfares and package tours.
Around 48% of the total expenditure came from first-time visitors to Australia. The Tourism Forecasting Committee predicts that total Middle East arrivals (excluding Israel and North Africa) will hit the 50,000 mark in 2007 - a 17% increase from the previous year.
Oldfield said that in the long run, arrivals from the Middle East are expected to perform well over the next nine years, with an average annual growth rate of 11% through to 2015.
Dubai-based airline Emirates currently operates 49 flights weekly to Australia and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways will increase its Sydney service from daily to 11 flights per week in March 2008.
In addition, the carrier has introduced a Brisbane service via Singapore that operates three times weekly.