International students crave more than education

26 Aug 2019


  • Australian Economy

As international students flock to Australia, they seek more than just the world-class education – they are also avid travellers. International students want to experience our natural wonders, enjoy our culture and explore the personal ties they have with Australia.

This means there is now a vital bond between international education and Australian tourism.

In 2018, approximately 577,000 short-term international students visited Australia. While their stay was brief – less than 12 months – their impact was anything but. On average each student spent more than A$20,000. As a group, short-term international students contributed A$11.5 billion to the national economy while in Australia.

Like all students, these visitors are attracted to the big cities. Sydney and Melbourne are the main drawcards, but Brisbane and Perth were also popular choices. These cities attracted 85% of international education visitors for their studies, and are home to five of the world’s top 100 universities.

They are curious and seek adventure

It’s not all about lectures and tutorials. Approximately 31% of international students venture beyond their study base to go on a holiday while in Australia. These trips are driven by:

  • Australia’s natural wonders . Students made 125,000 trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru or the Great Ocean Road, which was more than one in four visitors to those attractions in 2018. Many of these trips were made by students based in Sydney and Melbourne, which means they are willing to travel great distances to see our most iconic attractions.
  • Previous ties to Australia. Seven-in-ten education visitors have been to Australia before, and 8% travelled across Australia to visit friends and relatives. For example, an international student studying in Sydney may have travelled to the North Coast or even Brisbane to visit friends while in Australia.
  • Australian lifestyle and culture experiences. Regardless of where they stayed, 79% of international education visitors participated in outdoor and nature activities, 55% had a food experience and 15% experienced indigenous culture. The fact that international students stay longer than other visitors means they are more likely to immerse themselves in Australian culture. 
  • Sydney-based student dispersal

    Map of Australia showing Sydney-based student dispersal

  • Melbourne-based student dispersal

    Map of Australia showing Melbourne-based student dispersal

Tourism and international education, a recipe for growth

The continued changes in international student behaviour translate into changing spending behaviours. While education fees continue to account for the largest share of international student spend (48%), these visitors are now focussing more on experiences. For example, student visitors now spend almost A$1 billion on shopping and entertainment.

Today, the impact that international education visitors have on Australia is deeper and wider than ever before. While international students help support Australia’s education system, they are large contributors to Australia’s A$140 billion tourism industry and their links to – and intrigue in – Australia continue to influence their travel patterns.

Understanding the links between international education and tourism can create fresh opportunities. Gaining a better understanding of the dynamics involved will allow these sectors to leverage future opportunities and has the potential to deliver greater national benefits.