Tourism is an important economic driver for the Northern Territory (NT) and a significant industry in regional areas. Tourism’s contribution to the NT economy is captured in a range of industries. These include accommodation and food services, retail trade, culture and recreation, and transport. In this section, analysis is provided on domestic and international visitor numbers and their habits, cruise ships and visitors, accommodation, aviation, attractions and infrastructure, and marketing initiatives.

Infographic showing value of NT industry Infographic showing GSP Infographic showing persons employed Infographic show percentage of NT workforce

Economic contribution | Contribution to employment | International visitors | Domestic visitors | Accommodation | Aviation | Cruise ships | Marketing and initiatives | Explanatory notes

Tourism Research Australia (TRA) reports the direct and indirect impact of expenditure and employment of tourism at the state and territory level based on data from the ABS’ National Tourism Satellite Accounts. The Department of Treasury and Finance work closely with the Department of Tourism and Culture (DTC) to compile information on the NT’s tourism industry. For more industry and tourism related data, please go to DTC’s website. Unless otherwise stated, the following analysis is based on estimates published by TRA.

Economic contribution

Tourism is an important economic driver for the NT and a significant industry in regional areas. Tourism’s contribution to the NT economy is captured in a range of industries, including accommodation and food services, retail trade, culture and recreation, and transport. In 2016-17 the tourism industry in the NT is estimated to have directly contributed $1.2 billion to GSP.

Contribution to employment

In 2016-17, the tourism industry contributed a total of 16 300 employees to both direct and indirect employment. Data for 2017-18 is not yet available. For further information please go to the Tourism Research Australia website for the Tourism Satellite Account publication found on their research section.

International visitors

In the year to September 2018, international visitor numbers to the NT decreased by 1.1% to an estimate of 289,200 international visitors (Chart.1). There is no data relating to the purpose of visit since the March quarter 2018 because the quality of the main purpose of visit component of the passenger data supplied to Tourism Research Australia by the Department of Home Affairs has been identified as a concern. There are no issues with the survey collection.

For a more detailed breakdown of the data please go to the research section of the Tourism Research Australia or Tourism NT website for latest visitor data.

In the year to September 2018, there was a 1.3% decline in international visitors to the top end (to 132,400 visitors) and international visitors to Central Australia decreased by 2.0% (to 201,500 visitors). Despite, a greater number of visitors to central Australia, the average stay in central Australia is less than the average stay in the top end, 5.6 nights compared to 18.1 nights.

In the year to September 2018, the main overseas markets that contributed to the decrease in international visitation included the United States, which was down 27.9% to 36,000 visitors, United Kingdom down 6.3% and Germany down 11.1% (Chart 2). International visitors from Japan increased by 35.9%. Furthermore, Greater China which is ranked fifth largest as a source market, increased by 19.0%.

Domestic visitors

In the year to September2018, 1.5 million interstate and intrastate overnight visitors travelled to and within the NT, which is a 0.4% decrease compared to the previous year or 6,600 less visitors. (Chart 3). Nationally, domestic visitor numbers increased by 7.0% to a record high of 102.7 million.

Domestic overnight visitors to the NT for business purposes have declined by 4.9% to 626,500. The number of travellers visiting friends and relatives decreased by 48,800 to 215,700 in the year to September. The number of travelers for holiday purposes increased by 12.9% to 656,900.

Domestic visitors to central Australia decreased by 1.6% to 516,800 in the year to September 2018. Domestic visitors to top end Australia also decreased by 0.6% to 1,107,900.

Territorians took an estimated 659,000 overnight trips within the NT in the year to December 2017. Although there was growth in intra-Territory visitors travelling to visit friends and relatives and for business, this was offset by a decline in holiday visitors and those travelling for other purposes. Interstate overnight visitors who travelled to the NT was estimated at 909,000 persons in the year to December 2017, with business also being the main reason for travel. The number of interstate overnight visitors to the NT continues to be greater than the intrastate overnight visitors (Chart 4).

For more information on the domestic visitor numbers to the research section of the Tourism Research Australia website or Tourism NT website for latest visitor data.


According to STR (formally known as Smith Travel Research), average occupancy rates for September 2018 decreased by 8.9 percentage points to 70.0% in the NT when compared to September 2017. There was a 9.9% decrease in demand to 201,000 nights. The lower results were compounded by an increase in room supply at the end of the month to 9,524 rooms (up 140 rooms). In the year ending September 2018, occupancy rates were 2.3 percentage points higher at 71.0%.

In the month of September 2018, the occupancy rate in Darwin decreased by 10.0 percentage points to 70.0%, compared to September 2017. The decline was due to a decline of 9.9% in demand and a 16.0% drop in revenue per available room. This was partly due to an increase in rooms (up 163 rooms) compared to September 2017. In Alice Springs, demand increased by 1.0% for September 2018 compared to September 2017, resulting in a 0.8 percentage points increase in the occupancy rate to 83.0%. For the year ending September 2018, the occupancy rate in Darwin was up 2.4 percentage points to 73.0% and was marginally higher (up 1.1 percentage points to 73.0%) in Alice Springs.

Increasing activity in the accommodation sector will help place the NT’s tourism industry in a position to attain its target to grow the visitor economy. For more information go to Tourism NT website for reports on the NT’s hotel development pipeline under the section investing in the NT.


The Territory’s tourism industry relies heavily on aviation due to large distances between major tourist attractions within the Territory and the remoteness of Darwin and Alice Springs from major metropolitan areas in other jurisdictions. The Territory is serviced by five domestic airlines and eight international airlines. Inbound seat capacity to the Territory for 2017 decreased by 1.0% compared to 2016. The decrease in inbound capacity was experienced across all airports in the Territory with the exception of Yulara which had an increase.

Cruise ships

The Cruise sector contributed $87.6 million into the Territory economy in 2016-17. In 2016-17, there were a total 49 ship visits to Darwin which carried 53,666 guests. During 2017 -18, 67 ship visits are expected in total, with the capacity of 55,212 guests to Darwin. In April 2018, the largest ship to sail in Australia, the Ovation of the Seas, visited Darwin for the second time bringing around 4000 passengers and 1600 crew. In September 2018, the Majestic Princess will reposition from China to Australian water and pass through Darwin returning to Asia in 2019. Through 2017, there were also a number of expedition cruise ships visits to remote regional locations across the Top End including the Tiwi Island, Elcho Island and Yirrkala.

Marketing and initiatives

The NT Government’s national, ‘Do the NT’ brand campaign has been in the market since 2014. There has been an increased focus on highlighting the diversity of activities and iconic events available in the NT to heighten awareness of regional travel opportunities before tourists leave home. This has led to other campaigns under the main brand campaign. The Million Dollar Fish competition, which was launched in 2015, continues to generate national and international exposure for the NT as a place to fish and has been extended through to 2020. This campaign aims to encourage travel to the NT during the low season.

To attract international travellers, there is a focus on the range of events and festivals that offer visitors the opportunity to boast about their unique holiday experiences. To target backpackers, the NT promote deals and use digital advertising on key youth platforms to from the East Coast.

For more information go to the marketing section of the Tourism NT website.

Announced in early 2018, the NT Government is rolling out a record $103 million tourism stimulus package to stimulate and support the industry in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The package is aimed at better promotion of attractions with $26.57 million for targeted tourism marketing, with $10.85 million allocated towards cooperative marketing with key domestic and international airlines. To create more memorable experiences $56.24 million has been allocated towards new tourism infrastructure, which includes $9.9 million for the upgrade of the George Brown Darwin Botanic Garden, $12 million to open up new cycling tracks in Central Australia and $12.1 million to open new areas of Litchfield National Park. There is also $20.78 million towards enhancing existing festivals and events which includes $4 million towards maintaining and enhancing Territory parks and $4 million to develop new festivals and events.  For more information go to Turbocharging Tourism NT.

Explanatory notes

NT tourism data is based primarily on data sourced from TRA. For their international visitor survey it is conducted by computer assisted personal interviewing in the departure lounges of the eight major international airports: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Gold Coast. Survey results are weighted to data provided by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on international visitor numbers with the assistance of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The national visitor survey (NVS) includes any Australian resident who is 15 years of age or more and has lived in their current residence for at least three months. Up to the end of 2013, the NVS sample only included residential landline phones, but from January 2014 onwards, the sample design was modified by the addition of mobile phones.

For further information on the methodology used by TRA for their international and national visitor surveys go to TRA website.