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Overseas tourists arrive in record numbers despite dollar

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Australia is taking in more foreign tourists than ever before, even with the high dollar.

New data from the Bureau of Statistics shows monthly arrivals above half a million, with the March seasonally adjusted total hitting 512,000; up from 475,500 a year before.

China is responsible for one-third of the increase. Australia takes in 52,100 visitors from mainland China a month, up from 39,700 - a rise of 31 per cent. Arrivals from Indonesia are up from 11,400 to 13,600 - an increase of 32 per cent.

Even economically troubled regions sent more visitors. Arrivals from Britain rose 13 per cent, arrivals from mainland Europe 11 per cent and arrivals from the US 7 per cent.

The number of Australians heading overseas has also risen 16 per cent to the second-highest level on record. Taken literally, the 676,800 departures during March suggest one in every 34 Australians was out of the country.

CommSec economist Craig James said: ''The problem for tourist areas is not that foreign tourists aren't coming, rather it's that Aussies now prefer to go abroad.''

In its budget, the government committed an extra $61 million to promote Australia as a tourist destination in Asia. And it has also decided to lift the departure tax from $47 to $55 and then to increase it annually, which will bring in an extra $610 million over the four years.

If tourist numbers accelerate the budget estimate will prove conservative. Peter Martin

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