People from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) visiting Australia are expected to grow by eight per cent this year and by 15 per cent in 2010, according to a forecast by the Tourism Australia Aviation and Economics Team.
Geoff Buckley, Managing Director, Tourism Australia, said: "The strong growth in arrivals to Australia from the Gulf not only relates to aviation developments, but also reflects the growing recognition by travellers from here of what Australia offers. Many Middle East travellers see Australia as a perfect place of escape from the summer heat of the Gulf – they like to 'fly and flop'."
"Increasingly Australia is being recognised as a destination offering family-friendly holiday experiences and this is also in line with Tourism Australia's activities in the region, he said.
The Tourism Forecasting Committee revised forecast arrivals to Australia downwards as economic growth has weakened in most regions worldwide. The Middle East seems to be less affected by the economic slowdown with wealth and aviation capacity growth expected to support above-average growth from these markets.
The research said airports in the region such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become increasingly important hubs for Europe-Australia traffic as airlines have dramatically increased capacity from Europe to the Gulf and then to Australia in recent years. "This growth in seat capacity has provided improved access and additional opportunities for travel to Australia," the research said.
Australia's marketing efforts have focused on highlighting those activities, which are popular with the Middle East such as family outdoor activities, shopping and theme parks.
According to research from Tourism Australia, Emirates is the dominant airline on the route with more than half [55 per cent] of all Gulf tourists visiting Australia on this airline in the year ended June 2008. In 2007 and the first six months of 2008 Etihad also gained significant market share.
Direct capacity on the Gulf-Australia route has been increasing by 11 per cent year on year since 2007, the research said. The outlook for Gulf-Australia aviation market looks positive this year, with more capacity increase.
An Emirates spokesperson said the airlines currently operates 49 flights per week from Dubai to Australia including double-daily services to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, as well as daily services to Brisbane. "Emirates is also set to launch its first A380 to Sydney in February. Emirates has an average load factor of 80 per cent on these routes," he said.
Meanwhile, an Etihad spokesperson said the carrier plans to fly daily to Melbourne from end-March. The airline operates 10 flights to Sydney and three times to Brisbane.
Doha-based Qatar Airways, too, is expected to commence its inaugural Doha–Melbourne service by the year-end. Sydney has a load factor of 93 per cent, while Brisbane has a load factor of 75 per cent.
The research further revealed the growth in number of tourists to Australia is set to continue as a large number of aircraft deliveries are due in the next two years besides a gradual increase in the allowed bilateral capacity. Other reasons include expansion plans for Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports that support the airlines' ambitious expansion aspirations.
Emirates has also made investments in Australian airport facilities such as a business lounge in Brisbane and A380 facilities. And there is premium traffic on most Australian services.