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, sector development 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, Sport and Culture (DTSC) to compile information on the NT’s tourism industry. For more industry and tourism related data, please go to DTSC’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, rental and hiring, construction, and transport. In 2017-18, the tourism industry in the NT is estimated to have directly contributed $1.2 billion or 4.4% to gross state product. For further information visit the Tourism Research Australia website for the Tourism Satellite Accounts publication available in the economic analysis section.

Contribution to employment

In 2017-18, tourism was a large employer in the NT with the sector directly employing about 9700 people, which increased to about 17 100 people when the indirect contribution is accounted for (about 7400 people). For further information please go to the Tourism Research Australia website for the Tourism Satellite Accounts publication available in the economic analysis section.

International visitors

In 2018-19, international visitor numbers to the NT increased by 3.9% to an estimate of 294,000 visitors (Chart.1). Growth in international visitation was mainly driven by an increase in holiday and leisure purpose visitors (up 3.0%), business (up 1.2%) and other reasons (up 27.3%). This was partly offset by falls in visitors travelling for the purpose of visiting friends and relatives (down 28.9%).

By region, the Top End region experienced an increase of 5.6% in international visitation to 134,000 visitors. However visitors who travelled to Central Australia for all purposes declined by 0.2% to 203,000 international visitors in 2018-19. Holiday and leisure visitors make up the majority visitors to the NT regions, with about 71.6% of all visitors to the Top End and 97.5% of all visitors to Central Australia.

International visitation was underpinned by growth in Japan (up 56% to 40,000 visitors), greater China (which includes mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong) (up 35% to 23,000 visitors), and the United States (up 3.1% to 39,000 visitors). Other key source markets experienced a decline, which includes the United Kingdom (down 28.0% to 30,000 visitors) and Germany (down 5.6% to 26,000 visitors).

For a detailed breakdown of the data, please go to the research section of Tourism Research Australia, with additional analysis available at Tourism NT.

Domestic visitors

In 2018-19, 1.7 million interstate and intrastate overnight visitors travelled to and within the NT, increasing by 12.6% (Chart 3). NT domestic visitors make up about 1.5% of national domestic visitors.

Growth in domestic visitors was driven by an increases in business (up 33.2% to 773,000 visitors), and holiday and leisure (up 1.3% to 634,000 visitors) purposes of travel over this period. These two purposes of travel are the largest contributors to total domestic visitation (46.8% and 38.4%, respectively). This was partly offset by a 5.7% decline to 209,000 visitors visiting friends and relatives, as well as 21.3% decline to 79,000 visitors for other purposes.

Domestic visitation by all purposes of travel increased by 19.5% to 1.2 million visitors to the Top End, however visitors to Central Australia declined by 3.8% to 504,000 visitors over the period.

Territorians took an estimated 632,000 overnight trips within the NT, slightly down by 0.1% compared to the same time the previous year. Interstate visitation to the NT increased by 22.0% to 1,019,000 visitors over the same period. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland represent the largest interstate source markets for the NT (Chart 4).

For a detailed breakdown of the data, please go to the research section of Tourism Research Australia, with additional analysis available at Tourism NT.


According to STR (formally known as Smith Travel Research), average occupancy rates in the year to August 2019 declined by 12.0 percentage points to 59.0%, with most of the decline driven by weak performance in Darwin. The decrease in occupancy occurred due to an increase in the supply of available rooms (up 34,870 available room nights to 3.5 million) combined with a decline in room nights occupied (down 16% to 2.06 million room nights).

In the year to August 2019, the average annual occupancy rate in Darwin decreased by 14.0 percentage points to 60.0%. The decline was due to a decline of 17.0% in demand to 1.23 million room nights, despite a decline in supply of 119 rooms. In contrast, Alice Springs’ average annual occupancy rate were unchanged at 72.0% over the same period.

In light of the positive visitation results, the low occupancy rates could be attributed to a number of reasons such as declines in corporate and business visitors in hotels and an increase in accommodation available as more properties are rented for short stay accommodation rather than for long term tenancy.

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. In August 2016, the Territory Government and Landbridge Infrastructure Group Australia signed an agreement for the development of a luxury hotel in Darwin at the Darwin Waterfront. Construction on the Westin Darwin Hotel commenced in March 2019, with plans to begin operations in 2022. This new development will broaden the range of accommodation available in the Top End region and can help attract more tourists and unique business events in Darwin. For more information on the project and development of the hotel, refer to the Landbridge Darwin Luxury Hotel website.

For further information on accommodation for the NT, Darwin and Alice Springs, visit the research section on the Tourism NT website.


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 six international airlines. Inbound seat capacity to the Territory in 2018 decreased by 2.7%. The decrease in inbound capacity was experienced across all airports in the Territory with the exception of Alice Springs and Yulara.

Cruise ships

The cruise sector plays an important part in the NT’s tourism sector through its contribution to regional economic and business activity. In 2017-18, the cruise sector generated an estimate of $171.9 million of total expenditure, resulting from a total of 66 ship visits to Darwin which carried 50,192 guests.

During 2018-19, the largest vessel to pass through Darwin was the Explorer of the Seas which brought 4029 passengers in April 2019. In September 2018, the Majestic Princess cruise ship which repositioned from China to Australia and passed through Darwin, brought 3459 passengers to the economy, and retuned in April 2019 delivering an additional 3560 passengers. Through 2018, there were also a number of expedition cruise ship visits to remote and regional locations across the Top End including the Tiwi Islands, Elcho Island and Yirrkala. During 2018-19, 74 ship visits are expected in total, bringing a capacity of 49,677 guests to Darwin.

Marketing, sector development and initiatives

To attract and grow the domestic and international visitation market, the NT government continues to support the tourism industry through a range of marketing and development strategies and stimulus programs. Some of these include:

Turbocharging Tourism

In early 2018, the NT government announced a $103 million Turbocharging Tourism stimulus program that was intended to accelerate growth in the holiday and leisure visitor markets to the NT. The program’s associated funding and contribution to economic activity is expected to continue to flow through 2018-19 into 2019-20, reflecting timing between marketing and infrastructure activities. The initiative was delivered in three stages, which include:


Turbo2 is an additional $62.8 million extension to the initial turbocharging tourism initiative, over 2019‑20 and 2020-21 aimed at attracting more visitors to the NT, which creates local jobs and delivers expenditure into the community. The extended program is planned to deliver more investment into domestic and international visitor marketing activities, and will continue to support events and festivals to be held in the NT.  For more information on the program, visit the Turbocharging Tourism website.

Tourism Industry Strategy 2030

The Northern Territory’s Tourism Industry Strategy 2030 sets the direction of tourism in the NT for the next 10 years, which was co-developed with industry as part of the Turbocharging Tourism initiative. The strategy identifies six priority objectives and includes actions to achieve these goals in the short, medium and long-term to attract more visitors to the NT and help the sector deliver quality tourism experiences. For more information on the strategy, visit the Tourism NT’s website.

Business Events Strategy

The Business Events Strategy is purposed to grow the business and events sector over the next 10 years in the NT, also part of the Turbocharging Tourism Initiative. The aim of the Strategy is for business events to deliver $68 million in delegate expenditure to the economy by 2030. For more information on the strategy, visit the Tourism NT’s website.

Jabiru Masterplan

The Commonwealth and NT government’s master plan to redevelop Jabiru into a tourism hub provides opportunity for new tourism and infrastructure investment, fundamentally transforming the town into a nationally and internationally recognised tourism destination with the aim of increasing visitation levels and associated expenditure. The plan will include the construction of an Aboriginal-led World Heritage Kakadu Centre, significant road upgrades, new tourism infrastructure, and the remediation of Jabiru. The plan also proposes the removal of crocodiles from Lake Jabiru to offer year-round swimming.

China Ready Industry Program

In line with the Tourism Vision 2020 which is designed to grow the value of the visitor economy, address supply constraints and improve the visitor experience, the NT Government has released the China Ready Program. This program is aimed at placing the NT as a ‘China-Ready’ destination with a target to attract 30,000 Chinese visitors with an estimated expenditure of $46 million to the NT by 2020.

For more information on all tourism initiatives and actions,  go to the marketing and development sections of the Tourism NT website.

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.

TRA have revised international visitor survey estimates from 2005 to 2018 with the release of year ending December 2018 data. The revisions focus on purpose-of-visit estimates, with minimal change to visitor, nights and spend estimates. As results have been revised back to 2005, they cannot be used or compared to previously published data.

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.

The NT, Darwin and Alice Springs monthly accommodation reports are sourced from daily data provided by participating hotels to the STR Global survey. This data is accumulated and averaged for the month and used as the basis for the analysis.