Land of the free is all the rage

Illustration: Michael Mucci
Illustration: Michael Mucci

Bali, we still love you, but you've got serious competition. With a strong dollar and plenty of flights, Aussies have fallen head over heels for the US.

The US has overtaken Bali in the favour of Australian travellers, according to one of the biggest travel insurance providers in Australia, Cover-More.

Analysis of more than 1.6 million travel insurance policies last year, released exclusively to Fairfax Media, shows Bali has fallen from the top spot.

Travel to Bali was up just 3 per cent last year, when compared to 2011, while the US was up 18 per cent.

Official visitor arrival figures will not be available for some time, but with about one in four Australians departing Australia with a Cover-More policy, the insurer's data is a solid indicator.

The strategy and marketing manager for Cover-More, Zac Brookes, says Bali has long been at the top of the listings, with the exception of the period following the Bali bombings.

It is the US's first time at No. 1 in recent times.

Brookes says there has been a general shift to destinations that are further away, which he attributes to the affordability of flights.

The duration of trips has changed little, but travellers are travelling longer distances in that time.

However, the Cover-More data indicates the US may be facing tough competition, with South Pacific cruising up a whopping 165 per cent in 2012, to bring it into seventh place.

With more ships now based in Australian waters and many short-break itineraries on offer, one of our favourite "destinations" for the years ahead is likely to be cruises.

Another strong performer for 2012, according to Cover-More, was Thailand, which held on to third place ahead of England, New Zealand and Fiji.

Trips to Japan grew by an impressive 25 per cent, thanks to a favourable exchange rate against the yen and demand for skiing, while China jumped 30 per cent, although it remained outside the top 10. The Philippines was up 18 per cent, while Vietnam made it into the top 10 for the first time, with 7 per cent growth for 2012.

Brookes says Europe was also very strong, with Italy up 14 per cent, France up 15 per cent and Germany up 25 per cent from last year. However, South Pacific favourites Fiji and Vanuatu felt the pain of extreme weather, falling by 10 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

The leading travel agency group, Flight Centre, is not surprised by the Cover-More statistics, saying the US overtook Bali in its own sales figures about two years ago.

The executive general manager of marketing for Flight Centre, Colin Bowman, says the exchange rate combined with increased flight access makes the US a big seller.

"It's not only Los Angeles; you've now got Qantas flying into Dallas Fort Worth, while New York has become very popular, along with Honolulu," Bowman says.

The No. 1 destination for Flight Centre for 2012 was London, helped along by the Olympics and the English capital being a major gateway for other places in Europe.

This was also the case for leading online travel agency, which sold more travel to London than any other destination for 2012.

However, Bowman says London's gateway status could change as a result of the Qantas-Emirates partnership, meaning more Australians are likely to go direct into European countries via Dubai. says Japan was a late standout for 2012, with flight bookings for the last two months of the year 137 per cent up on the previous year.

The general manager of, Renee Welsh, says Australian travellers were uneasy about Japan for some time after the 2011 tsunami but it has now bounced back significantly.

Another hot destination for 2012 was South America, with flight bookings to Argentina increasing nearly 80 per cent on the previous year and flights to Brazil up 36 per cent.

Welsh says there is strong demand from travellers looking for "unique" experiences, with destinations such as South America and Sri Lanka coming becoming much more popular.

Flight Centre says another key trend is healthy growth in Aussies holidaying in Australia, with domestic travel up about 15 per cent in 2012, compared to 2011.

Bowman puts this down to good product offerings and special deals, enticing Australians to have a look in their own backyard and start taking shorter breaks closer to home.

Aussie favourites

Flight Centre says bookings for tropical north Queensland and the Queensland islands were up 20 per cent for the second half of 2012.

The Northern Territory's Top End was also in demand, with 25 per cent growth in the second half of the year.

Beach holidays to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast remained "firm favourites", along with city breaks in Sydney and Melbourne. The Mantra accommodation group says it has seen a trend towards longer breaks over the summer, with holidaymakers staying five to six nights instead of three to four.

This story Land of the free is all the rage first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.