Cairns is Australia’s most popular city to visit in 2021


Cairns has become Australia’s favourite place for a holiday but an unlikely rival is inching closer to the top spot, according to new data on where we’re travelling in 2021.

Flight booking data released by Skyscanner this week revealed Cairns is the top destination for Australian travellers, with COVID-19 travel restrictions taking previous favourites like Bali and Phuket out of play.

The Tropical North Queensland city was found to be the top destination for travellers of all categories – couples, families and groups – for June to October this year.

That is perhaps no surprise as those months are dry season in Cairns, where the mild and sunny weather provides the perfect escape from the southern winter.

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The reopening of Queensland’s notoriously strict border to most travellers in Australia could also be behind the surge in interest in Cairns, a Skyscanner travel expert told

“We’ve seen real pent up demand as borders and domestic restrictions have eased, with travellers itching to see more of Australia, use up annual leave and plan a getaway with friends, family and loved ones,” they said.

“There are also some great bargains to be had for flexible flights and that coupled with the good weather has been drawing travellers north to explore some of the most renowned beauty spots, right on our doorstep.”

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Unexpected town rivals other tourist spots

The Queensland hotspots of Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast, Whitsundays and Port Douglas, along with capital cities like Darwin and Hobart, are also among the top destinations for travellers in 2021.

But an unexpected rival to those perennial favourites is the outback town of Alice Springs, which has suddenly become the third top trending search among all Australian holiday-makers.

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The Northern Territory town, which recently hosted the 10-day Parrtjima Festival and is close to the majestic MacDonnell Ranges and great expanse of the Simpson Desert, came third behind the Whitsundays and Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Broome, Darwin, Hobart, Cairns, Adelaide and Gold Coast completed the list of top trending destinations for Australian travellers overall.

Skyscanner’s latest report also shed light on Australians’ holiday habits as the country adjusts to life during COVID-19.

Trip duration is shorter in 2021 – just 16 days, compared to 21 in 2019 – which has been attributed to shorter domestic flights, according to a recent Skyscanner survey.

Price of holidays matter, with 37 per cent of participants saying price was a key factor in determining where they chose to travel.

Thankfully, we’re spending 35 per cent less on the average fare compared to 2019, due to lower prices and the shift to domestic travel.

But Australian travellers seem to be upgrading airfares from the cheapest option, prioritising direct routes, flexible fares, preferred airlines and airports of choice.

Bucket lists being re-imagined

At a time when international borders remain closed except for New Zealand, domestic tourism appears to be “booming”, Skyscanner’s head of Asia Pacific, Paul Whiteway, said.

“Our new research shows there is pent up wanderlust, with 37 per cent of those surveyed saying the culture and experiencing new things to do on holiday is impacting their destination preferences,” he said.

“This desire to get out and explore has led Aussies to re-imagine their bucket list travels for the time being and reconsider the incredible destinations closer to home.

“Where measures have been announced providing clarity on dates and restrictions, we have seen direct correlations with interest for example with the recent New Zealand travel corridor.”

Mr Whiteway said travel demand was also being driven by enticing travel deals, such as airline fare sales, and increased flexibility.

“Travellers want to get away safely and within the rules, and we expect that as we see more travel become possible, travellers will respond with their booking behaviours,” he said.

Top destinations for travellers in June-October


2019: Phuket

2021: Cairns, followed by Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast and Port Douglas


2019: Rome

2021: Cairns, followed by Darwin, Hobart, Broome and Hamilton Island


2019: Denpasar (Bali)

2021: Cairns, followed by Darwin, Gold Coast, Prosperine (Whitsundays) and Townsville

Top trending searches for all Aussie travellers

1. Prosperine (Whitsundays)

2. Hamilton Island

3. Alice Springs

4. Broome

5. Darwin

6. Hobart

7. Cairns

8. Adelaide

9. Gold Coast

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


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