How busy is Byron really? – a statistical approach to the topic

A number of media outlets have recently claimed that Byron Bay is experiencing ‘over-tourism’. Most inevitably reference the UK tour company Responsible Travel who compiled a list of global towns experiencing over-tourism based on ‘news reports’, with no regard for the underlying statistics. All articles mentioning over-tourism in our shire inevitably include a mention of our short-term holiday rental situation and a quote from a local councillor for effect.

According to the UNWTO the definition of over-tourism is “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way”. No doubt on some days and in some part of our shire we have an over-tourism problem, but it’s quite the stretch to use the term to describe our entire visitor economy.

Byron’s hotels, serviced apartments and holiday parks are only achieving occupancies in the mid to high 60’s on an annual basis. At a national level, this is categorically underwhelming. For example, Sydney’s hotels achieve 87%, Melbourne 86%, Gold Coast 72%, Cairns 84%, and Hobart 79%. Byron’s occupancy of around 66% is almost the same as that seen for the entire Northern NSW region.

So where’s the feeling of over-tourism and low occupancy rates coming from?

Accommodation supply is a likely a contributor. In a shire of about 15,500 dwellings, we have a fluctuating short-term holiday rental count of around 1,500-2,500, and a hotel room supply of around 1,500. Over supply creates lower hotel occupancies. The other, and possibly the biggest contributor is the ‘domestic drive market’.

Destination Byron commissioned some research to cut through the conjecture and provide our community with the statistics. They can be found on our website

Our thriving visitor economy welcomes about 2.24 million visitors p.a. and is comprised of three separate demand drivers:  1. ‘Domestic Drive Market’ 1.12 million visitors (most from SE Qld), 2. ‘Domestic Overnight market’ 906,000 visitors, and 3. ‘International Overnight market’ 213,000 visitors.

If you look at the economic contribution by visitor type, Day Visitors are here for a few hours and spend most of their time at restaurants and our beaches. Domestic Overnight Visitors are here on average for 3.3 nights, and International Overnight Visitors here for 7.2 nights on average. The 2.24 million total visitors sound like an incredibly high amount at face value, though excluding the drive-market, our visitor economy is achieving a perfectly normal and borderline underwhelming number of visitors.

Destination Byron believes the topic of over-tourism must be approached with a thorough understanding of our shires three visitor types. Any council or government policies that will impact our shires visitor economy should be done with full understanding of how it will impact each of the three visitor types.

If they’re all treated equally, we may find our shire penalises the ‘higher yield lower impact’ visitors without addressing the actual root cause of our feeling of ‘over-tourism’ – which is likely an over-active drive market, possible over supply of accommodation and our poor underlying infrastructure to accommodate all three visitor types.