How this country dethroned Bali as Aussie tourists’ top destination

Bali has long been Australians’ top pick for international travel — beautiful beaches, warm climate, similar time zone, it makes sense.

But for the first time in eight years, the Island of the Gods has been dethroned in what has been dubbed a “significant shift” in Aussie vacationers’ behaviour.

To who? Japan.

New data from Expedia found Tokyo has knocked Bali out of the top spot for international travel over summer.

Coming in third is Singapore, followed by Osaka and Kyoto, then New York.

Some have argued Japan’s rising popularity could be due to many Aussies seeking snow being forced to rule out more expensive winter sport destinations, such as Europe and the US.

It has also been suggested, however, that Bali’s recent crackdown on antisocial tourist behaviour could be tarnishing its laid-back reputation.

Expedia brands managing director Daniel Finch said while Bali is normally “neck and neck” with Hawaii and Fiji as top travel destinations this time of year, cost of living pressures at home were causing Aussies to shake up their holiday plans.

“It’s really quite interesting as there has been a shift this year with people looking for a cultural as well as a weather change,” he said.

“100 per cent without a doubt this is being driven by financial pressures.”

While Bali is touted as a cost effective holiday where the Australian dollar stretches quite far, the Japanese yen has plummeted to a 15-year low against the euro this year.

This has created a unique opportunity for savvy travellers to holiday to the Land of the Rising Sun, which also delayed reopening to international travellers post-Covid, stirring up more of an “appetite” in tourists.

Rising costs at home have also pushed Aussies to look for more budget-friendly holidays this year.

“Japan is a really good option for people who don’t want to travel to North America or Europe but who want the snow,” Mr Finch said.

“The people are very welcoming, it’s not a hard time zone change, and without a doubt snow sports and winter sports play a part in outbound travel for Australians in summer.

“With the euro and the US dollar, once foreign exchange comes into the equation it just becomes really expensive for Australians.”

The choice was easy for 25-year-old Rebecca Vasilas, whose two-week trip to Japan in August was her first international voyage since the pandemic.

“I’d always wanted to go but never got round to doing it, and it seemed like a more low key option,” she said.

“I thought it was somewhere I could go for a shorter amount of time, the flight’s shorter, and it’s close to Australia and cheaper than Europe and the US.”

Ms Vasilas was surprised by how cost effective her holiday turned out to be compared to previous trips abroad.

“It’s such a unique place,” she said.

“Everything is so colourful, the nature, the cities — it’s got a great mix of nature and tradition but also modern cultural things.

“For me as someone that hasn’t travelled much in Asia it was a good way to start — it’s quite accessible and it’s a very immersive travel experience.”

Adventure holiday company Intrepid Travel said Japan was the top-selling destination in its recent Cyber Sale and as a result had to increase 2024 departures by 51 per cent.

“Intrepid has seen a surge in interest in travellers looking to explore Japan,” Intrepid managing director ANZ Brett Mitchell said.

“It’s our highest growing destination.”

Mr Finch said the growing interest in Japan also demonstrated a shift in Aussies looking for more cultural holidays abroad.

“Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto all came up in our top 10 international destinations over summer, all of which are culturally rich,” he said.

“People who travel to Bali, however, really seem to relax.”

Melbourne-based Nastassja Xydias, 26, travelled to Bali in 2022 and loved it so much she returned in June this year.

“It was definitely a lot more affordable than going anywhere else in Asia really at that time,” she said.

“It’s cheaper than going to Japan, it’s more accessible, and the people there are so lovely and the weather is really consistently beautiful.

“I’d been there the year before and I loved it.”

Mr Finch said while Bali is known for its warm and friendly culture, as well as the quality of its resorts and villas, recent crackdowns on anti-social tourist behaviour could deter specific kinds of travellers.

“There may be a perception that Bali, for certain travelling types, is not quite as relaxed now,” he said.

“Gone are the days where you could rent a scooter and have a few drinks and not wear a helmet — for the betterment of the community and tourists.

“But the law is definitely taking a closer look at some behaviours, such as travellers behaving in an offensive way to local cultures, particularly in public places.”

Indonesia Institute founder Ross B. Taylor said there had been an impressive rebound in tourism to Bali, especially in WA where it’s only a three hour flight away, and that comparing the two holiday destinations was akin to weighing up “apples and oranges”.

“The rebound since Covid has been quite dramatic, if you look 12 months to the end of December WA will come in at about 420,000 people going to Bali for the year,” he said.

“When you think about a population of about 2.7m people that’s absolutely astonishing.

“In Perth there’s seven flights a day with five airlines, so pretty intense competition.”

Mr Taylor did concede, however, that the days of Bali presenting an “ultra cheap” holiday option were “just about over”.

“Generally speaking Bali is getting more expensive now but it’s too early to say whether that’ll impact tourist numbers,” he said.

“Pre-Covid, Aussies use to get a visa on arrival free of charge, and since Covid they’ve introduced a $50 fee.

“In addition to that, come February, the state government of Bali will introduce an additional $15 state environmental tax per head.”

Mr Taylor said cheaper accommodation options were still available on the island, though travellers might need to “shop around” to find more budget-friendly options.

Regardless, Bali will likely remain a popular option, especially as historic rivals Fiji and Hawaii continue to drift further out of reach for Aussies feeling the pinch.

This coincides with a rising trend in Aussie travellers seeking more affordable destinations offering similar cultural experiences, such as opting for a stay in Manchester over London.

“I think it’s a good thing that travellers are being a little more creative and expansive with their search and doing a bit more research,” Mr Finch said.

“That trend is likely to continue until the Australian dollar improves and cost of living pressures ease.” 


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