MORE than half of Australia's almost 5.6 million international visitors in the 12 months to September stayed in New South Wales.
Tourism Research Australia's latest International Visitors Survey showed there was a 3% rise in international visitors compared to the corresponding 12-month period in 2011.
The results revealed a continuing trend of strong growth from China - with arrivals increasing by 17% in the past year to 573,000 - surpassing the UK at 558,000.
New Zealand remained Australia biggest market for international visitors, with almost 1.091 million Kiwis crossing the ditch in the 12 months. China was second on 573,071.
NSW and Queensland were the most popular states among the 5,599,797 visitors, attracting 51% and 38% respectively of all arrivals.
Foreigners also opened their wallets during their visits to Australia as they spent $18.4 billion for the year, a jump of 4% on the previous year.
NSW received the largest share of expenditure ($6.3 billion, up 3%), followed by Victoria ($4.4 billion, up 4%) and Queensland ($3.8 billion, up 2%).
About 82% of the $18.4 billion was spent in the capital cities and the Gold Coast, with Sydney coming in first ($5.6 billion), followed by Melbourne ($4.1 billion), Perth ($1.9 billion) and Brisbane ($1.5 billion).
The Northern Territory was the most reliant on expenditure in regional areas (66%), followed by Tasmania (40%) and Queensland (38%).
Among regional areas, Tropical North Queensland received the highest expenditure ($833 million), followed by the Sunshine Coast ($190 million) and Hunter ($169 million).
Visitors from Asia had the highest expenditure ($9.7 billion, up 5%) - including $3 billion by Chinese visitors, $974 million by Korean visitors and $922 million by Singaporean visitors.
European visitors spent $4.3 billion (up 2%) - including $1.6 billion by United Kingdom visitors and $538 million by German visitors.
Visitors from New Zealand spent $1.6 billion (up 6%) and visitors from the USA spent $1.2 billion (up 9%).
In terms of the recent for visiting, holidays came in first (44%), followed by visiting friends and relatives (25%), business (16%), education (6%), employment (4%) and other (4%).
Holidaymakers spent the most ($6.2 billion, unchanged from the previous period), followed by visitors who travelled for education purposes ($5.5 billion, up 4%).
And it appears people who visit our shores once can't help but come back, with 63% of the 5.6 million total being return visitors.
The Tourism and Transport Forum said the survey was proof Australia's tourism sector had the potential to generate economic activity as the mining boom waned.
TTF chief executive John Lee said the signs were positive.
"The good news is that despite weak global economic conditions and the strong Australian dollar more people are coming to Australia," Mr Lee said.
"What this shows is that Australia is a desirable destination with world-class tourism products, accommodation, attractions and experiences.
He said the "relative strength" of the Australian economy was also having an impact as overseas visitors came to Australia for work.
The number of people coming here for employment jumped 14.7%.
Mr Lee said the Balance of Payment figures also showed the strength of the tourism sector.
"Tourism is the shining light of Australian exports for the September quarter, increasing 4% compared to a 16% fall in mining exports and an overall decline in total Australian exports of 8.9%," Mr Lee said.
TOP 3 NATIONS
New Zealand 1.091m
United Kingdom 558,000.
VISITORS SPENT $18.4b
NSW $6.3b, up 3%
Vic $4.4b, up 4%
Qld $3.8b up 2%
Chinese visitors $3b
United Kingdom $1.6b
New Zealand $1.6b
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