Educational tourism contributing $17.2 billion to Australia’s economy

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Education is a major export earner for Australia – with half a million international students studying in Australia each year, contributing about $17.2 billion in export income annually.  Both the number of international education tourists, and the amount they’re spending, is on the rise, which suggests there’s a lot to gain, both economically and in employment, with the international education market.

Whitehaven_Beach,_Whitsunday_Island,_QueenslandAccording to Tourism Research Australia, the number of international education tourists coming to study grew by 6.4% from 2001 to 2011.  This figure is projected to increase by an average annual rate of 4.6% by 2020.

International education tourists are spending more too.  More than $1 in every $3 spent by an international visitor is by international students.

Students are spending their money on education and fees (46.9%), food, drink and accommodation (31.8%), shopping (3.5%), motor vehicles (3%) and international airfares (2.6%) – as well as phone, entertainment, organised tours, petrol, and domestic airfares additional expenditures.

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) Managing Director Matt Hingerty says the tourism and education sectors have to work more closely together.

“For too long tourism and education have operated in respective silos with too little cooperation, marketing, and service provision” Mr Hingerty said.  “This report shows conclusively why demarcation between these two sectors is counterproductive”.

Take Melbourne, for example, where tourism has become an important economic driver for Victoria.  In 2011-2012 the direct and indirect contribution of the tourism industry to the Victorian economy was estimated at A$19.1 billion and accounted for approximately 5.8 per cent of Victoria’s Gross State Product (GSP).

The Victorian Government’s 2020 Tourism Strategy aims to grow tourism’s contribution to the state’s GSP to approximately A$34 billion by 2020.  It identifies four key industry priority strengths driving the continued growth of the state’s tourism industry through high quality workforce skills training, marketing know-how & research, digital excellence, along with major event and business event tourism.

Melbourne and regional Victoria’s tourism and hospitality industry operates at an extremely high standard, thanks to its highly skilled workforce.  Across the board, from hotel operations, tour operations, major event management and marketing, to food, wine and hospitality expertise – a highly professional, highly skilled workforce is ensuring Victoria’s tourism, major events and hospitality industries are operating to international first-class standards.

This breadth of specialised workforce knowledge is underpinned by Victoria’s universities and vocational training institutes over the gamut of relevant disciplines including professional cookery, resort & hotel management, marketing and eco-tourism.

Many of Victoria’s vocational training institutes and dual sector universities provide offshore delivery of their high quality qualifications in partnership with other institutions around the world.

But there’s one state that’s leading the way for educational tourism.

Queensland: A destination well positioned for educational tourism

Townsville, in North Queensland, has emerged as a destination of excellence with Reef HQ Aquarium, the National Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Institute of Marine Science and world leading James Cook University, all located in the city.

The region has even created products to showcase ‘edutourism’ experiences.  The new products have been established in partnership with the region’s tourism operators and education and research providers to make lifelong learning accessible.

As one of the only places on earth that is home to two World Heritage listed sites, Townsville Enterprise is pitching the region’s world class tourism products to international buyers.

Townsville Enterprise General Manager Tourism and Events, Patricia O’Callaghan, said the region has emerged as a destination of excellence in the educational tourism field and the delegation provides an opportunity to showcase to an international audience what the region has to offer.

“Since launching 16 educational tourism (edutourism) experiences in Townsville North Queensland last year, we have seen a number of student groups, both domestic and international, come to the region specifically for these immersive, hands-on experiences.”

“Here visitors will learn about marine life, ecology and the environment in a real life classroom from people who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with others.”

Tourism is also a major economic driver in the Sunshine Coast region.  The visitor economy currently injects almost $2.7 billion of direct expenditure into the destination, which, in turn, supports almost 35,200 jobs, providing employment opportunities for the local population across a range of industries from accommodation and food services to education and training.

Visitor expenditure also supports a range of infrastructure including restaurants, accommodation, transport and retail, which actively contribute to developing liveable communities.

To help achieve Queensland’s 2020 target aspiration of doubling overnight visitor expenditure to $30 billion by 2020, the Sunshine Coast tourism region will have to contribute approximately $3.9 billion towards the 2020 target.

In order to do this, a planned approach is required to harness key market segments to drive growth in the region.

Recognising this, the Sunshine Coast Destination Tourism Plan has been created to provide the definitive direction for tourism and events in the Sunshine Coast tourism region towards 2020, highlighting the resources required to achieve the 2020 target and create a sustainable and competitive tourism and events destination.

The Gold Coast, also in Queensland, will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games which will further strengthen Queensland’s economy and grow business and employment.

Embracing our games legacy outlines how domestic and international exposure will help boost numbers to Queensland.  The games will provide state with an opportunity to derive lasting economic benefits with $2 billion being injected into the state economy, and up to 30,000 jobs being created.

Australia has successfully gained a positioning as a well regarded destination offering quality education and training. International education has emerged as Australia’s largest service-based export industry, accounting for approximately 122,000 full-time equivalent jobs with 33,000 of these in the education sector itself and a further 89,000 in related sectors.

As the educational tourism industry continues to grow, strategic planning is required to enable businesses to access skilled staff in requisite numbers to ensure operations remain productive, sustainable and are able to meet rising consumer expectations.

If you would like to know more about educational tourism experiences, delegation hosting and custom made tours focussing on the future of work and Vocational Education and Training in Australia, please contact Wendy Perry via

August 2015

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