Terror and travel: What changes where Aussies go?

The data for overseas arrivals and departures was released today and I decided to see if there was any sign this latest ISIS conflagration was changing Aussies’ travel.

August travel


This chart shows the travel by Australians to Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, UAE, Pakistan and an ABS category called “Other Middle East and North Africa.”

If the government is trying to instil fear, it hasn’t been that effective, apparently. Let’s look at a longer time scale.

travel to islamic countriesThe red line gives us the simple answer. You can’t put the frighteners on us for long. Record numbers of Aussies are out there in majority Muslim countries, from Bali to Karachi.

(It’s worth noting that the number of Australians who identify as Muslim increased from 280,000 in 2001 to 480,000 in 2011. Some of them have family backgrounds in these countries, and might account for a modest share of that increased travel, so it isn’t all exploratory tourism.)

The share of total travel going to that group of countries dips from a peak in 1998 to a low in February 2003. It might be tempting to blame that on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but half the fall had already happened when those attacks occurred.

The reason for the peak and the pre-2001 fall is prosaic and sensible. IN 1998 opportunistic Aussies were riding a wave of Indonesian exchange rate appreciation that pulled back by 2000.


September 11 may explain a short blip but a more powerful explanation for the weakness in the middle of the graph is the 2002 and 2005 Bali Bombings. Both these events had sharp effects on travel to Indonesia.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 1.35.28 pmBut by 2008, that effect had passed.

And it seems Aussies weren’t turned off Islamic countries in general. In fact, between the 1998 peak and now, the numbers  of Aussies visiting Islamic countries rose 150 per cent.

And we’ve been more willing to get off the beaten path of Indonesia and Malaysia. The following graph shows how the shares changed.

destinations 1998

destinations 2014

Statistics show Australians aren’t as jerky and petrified as the opinion leaders might think. I’m not surprised.

Let’s hope some of this tourism helps spread a message that even if our government falls into the trap of following the US into war after war, friendship is possible between Australian people and people of Islamic states.




Why won’t Americans suck it up and fly to Australia?

Americans, the hypocrites, will not stop complaining about the flight to Australia.

“I want to go to Australia, but I can’t stomach the thought of the year long flight….ugggh.” (source)


“I really want to go to australia but at the same time the flight is just soooo long, and everything there is poisonous” (source)


“Flying to Australia is a long arduous experience” (source)

And yet they consider driving across their vast, lumpy and obese country a simple jaunt! A petit amusement! A mere caper!

This graph shows that lots of people who can easily afford to fly will still happily ride the Interstate for hour after arduous hour. Among people earning over 100 grand, twenty per cent of trips of 2000 miles are done by car! 20 per cent!!

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 5.20.03 pm

Just for reference for our Australian readers, an example of a round trip of 2000 miles would be from Melbourne to Byron Bay, AND BACK.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 5.33.58 pm

There should be millions of Americans trampling all over our fine brown land all the time.

The proportion of Americans with passports has risen from 3 per cent in 1989 to over 33 per cent now.

And yet growth in American tourism to Australia has been stunted, showing no growth at all in a decade, until a welcome recent blip. The cheap airfares that have had Aussies hitting up the States in record numbers apparently leave our American confreres ice cold.


What Is Happening, America? Why You No Come Here?

Are they wholly xenophobic? Can we blame Lara “where the bloody hell are you” Bingle? Or is it our famous racism? Or are they more concerned about our drop bears, redbacks and large, fast-moving and highly venomous snakes?

Perceptions of safety can scarcely be the issue. It turns out the favourite destination of Americans in selecting their overseas travel is Mexico, with a 33 per cent share.

Oceania (presumably including those hobbit-botherers across the ditch, plus Tahiti, Fiji, etc) gets just 0.9 per cent. [source]

Canada gets 20 per cent and Europe is next with 19 per cent. Europe! What have they got that we don’t? Europe is at least 7 hours flight, NY-London, and as much as 14 hours if you try to go from LA to Helsinki.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 5.48.27 pm

The American excuse that it is *just too far* is clearly made up. Which leaves us in an unhappy place. A place where we need to face a discomforting possibility.

Perhaps they just don’t like us.

Can we handle the rejection?

Farewell, America?

Aussies love the United States.

Sure, go on and eat that atheistic All Bran. Enjoy being regular in HELL.

I’ve been three times in the last four years. And I’m not alone.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.00.59 am

Part of the attraction is flights that are suddenly very very cheap. When the Qantas/United duopoly on the Sydney-LA route was broken in 2008, the price of flights halved.

home of the brave
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Horned Things.

When V Australia entered the market in 2008, their killer price offering was $1899, 16 percent below the existing lowest price. I’ve since seen return flights below $1000.

You can still buy a flight Sydney-LA for just a little over $1300 if you are bold and foolish enough to trust your travel to United. [My last trip to the States involved an unscheduled night in Sydney when someone crashed a luggage cart into our United Jet. Their initial compensation offer was accommodation in Woolongong and a flight 3 days later…]

California is... different
California is… different

At $1300, the appeal of a trip to the US is strong. The politics may be stuffed, but much like China, that doesn’t ruin it as a place to visit. I have been there more than any other country, without feeling like I’m running out of towns or states I want to go to.

Where freedom is just a bail bond away!

But, sadly, the best time to visit America is now past. The weird period in global financial markets is over, and US quantitative easing is heading (slowly) for the exit. Our dollar might be lucky enough to get back over US90c, but the word parity can now safely be taken by currency writers and put in the top cupboard, along with “gold standard” and “the great moderation“.

Late last week, the Aussie dollar dipped to a its lowest level since 2010: US86.5c.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.39.58 am


The effect of the falling Aussie dollar is already showing up in the ABS inflation statistics. There is likely to be a lag too, so that might not be the end of it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.45.21 am


So, it’s farewell America.

America, the wind beneath my wings
You were the wind beneath my wings. *sniff*

So what are our alternatives?

New Zealand is also going to feel more expensive than it has in years.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.56.22 am

 Europe is just as bad.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.59.02 am

But luckily, the second-top holiday destination for Australians has  a currency that’s even less popular than ours. In November 2013, Indonesia pipped the US as our second-top travel destination. I predict that by November 2014, there will be daylight between them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 12.03.33 pm

Or, I suppose, if things got desperate, you could always take a holiday in the place where the exchange rate is always 1:1.

sydneyI hear it can be quite nice.

My last ever story at the Financial Review

Was in the summer “bumper edition”. It’s a fun one about the reason we wait so long in airports. It was not out of the paywall then, but now the Financial Review is doing its free summer promotion, so you can get a month of access to the whole site, gratis.

Sign up here: https://subscribe.afr.com/afr/offers/summer/

Then, read my story here, free!

waiting in airports