TOURISM may be one of the few industries salivating at the prospect of the Australian dollar continuing to drop below parity.
Plunging to a 10-month low against the greenback yesterday, the dollar finished at US98.34¢.
If the downward trend continues, holiday planners will be swapping Fiji for the Gold Coast within six months, some tourism experts predict.
The strong domestic economy over the past year has created a deficit of 1.5 million trips in the $90 billion-a-year tourism industry. The Tourism and Transport Forum's visitor survey found 7.3 million outbound trips were recorded, compared with 5.8 million inbound. Roughly translated, one in three Australians has had an overseas trip in the past year.
The forum's chief executive, John Lee, said the strong local dollar, along with a weak economy in the US and Europe and a high level of job insecurity had obviously contributed to the deficit, but even inbound visitors from strong Asian economies, while still travelling, were spending less once they got here.
"We're not celebrating yet, but there are strong signs [of a tourism recovery] if the dollar drops and settles at the 92 to 93 mark," Mr Lee said. "It will certainly make domestic travel more attractive, but we won't see the real signs [from inbound tourism] for three to six months, and probably longer in the case of long-haul flights from the US and Europe."
Roy Morgan research shows about seven out of 10 Australians take at least one holiday a year. The fluctuations over the past decade, said researcher Michele Levine, had more to do with interest rates and consumer expectations than the state of the Australian dollar.
"There has been an increase in the underlying preference by Australians for an overseas holiday versus a domestic one,'' she said. ''Overseas holiday destinations are often seen as more exotic and offering a different culture and a wider variety of experiences than Australia.''
The convener of the Global Eco Tourism Conference, Tony Charters, said he would not be holding his breath for a low dollar-led recovery.
"I was travelling in the US in 2001 when every Australian dollar bought 50¢, and I don't recall Australia being run over by American tourists at that time," he said. "And as far as Australians choosing where to holiday, interest rates play a closer and more crucial correlation to people's travel patterns than the dollar."
Double-digit growth in outbound travel since 2005 was due to a cocktail of factors, Mr Charters said.
The introduction of budget airlines and an increasing acceptance of the terrorist risk while travelling had also contributed to Australians' increasing expectations that their annual holiday will be spent somewhere overseas.
"And I can't see that expectation suddenly turning around," Mr Charters said.
Sally Webster, a lecturer in tourism and marketing at the University of Canberra, said local tourism needed to become savvier to take advantage of the weaker dollar. "We need to look much more closely at niche marketing," she said. ''[Overseas advertising campaigns] are still too traditional and generalised overall, we need to overhaul our marketing strategies."