TTF View – April 2014
Visa reform a must if we are to maximise
Asia tourism potential
By Ken Morrison, chief executive,
Tourism & Transport Forum
INTERNATIONAL travel is surging and Australia is investing in new experiences to attract visitors and promote the country as a must-visit destination. But to remain competitive, we also need a modern visa process that does not deter visitors, particularly from Asia.
Our Asian neighbours are travel-ling in unprecedented numbers. In just ten years, Chinese visitors to Australia have more than quadrupled from 160,000 in 2003 to 677,000 in 2013 and numbers out of Malaysia, India, Vietnam and Indonesia have also risen strongly.
However, we believe this growth would be even higher if some of the unnecessary barriers facing potential visitors were removed.
TTF’s recent Asian Century Report Card shows that industry believes visa reform is a must for Australia. Some progress is being made to simplify visa applications and move to universal online processing, but more needs to be done.
This is especially true as our international rivals have seen the potential benefits and are taking steps to improve their visa systems.
In a welcome move, the Abbott government has introduced three-year, multiple entry visas for Chinese business visitors. The government’s election commitment to do the same with tourist visas remains as yet unfulfilled.
Extending visitor visas from 12 to 36 months would not only encourage repeat visitation but also reduce the administrative burden on Australia.
Implementing a user‐pays model for premium visitor visa processing would deliver faster processing for those willing to pay. Online processing and forms in a variety of languages would also improve the experience, reduce the complexity for non-English speakers, and help to build a positive first impression of Australia.
Most Asian countries still don’t have online access to visa applications and visa forms aren’t available
in local languages. In-person visa applications that can take up to a month do not expedite travel to Australia.
In addition, visitors from Australia’s targeted emerging markets pay more for their visas than people from traditional markets. For example, a British tourist coming for a two-week holiday will pay just $20 while a holidaymaker from China or India will pay at least $130. We would like to see that inequity addressed.
The Australian government has a target to double overnight tourism spending by 2020.
Making simple changes to the working holidaymaker scheme would help make this spending target achievable. Working holiday makers spend on average $13,000 during their stay, helping to create local jobs.
Lifting the current age cap of 30 and granting a second-year extension for those working in hospitality would encourage these visitors to stay longer and spend more.
In addition to the economic benefits, an expanded working holidaymaker scheme would also help alleviate labour shortages in the tourism industry. A 2011 Deloitte study found there were 36,000 vacancies in the tourism industry and that the shortage would reach 56,000 in 2015.
Australia still doesn’t have work and holiday arrangements with China, India or the Philippines which are ideal markets for this scheme. Working holidaymaker numbers from other growth markets are constrained by restrictive caps.
Visa reform is high on the agenda for TTF, having identified the significant possibilities for Australia these changes could bring. TTF continues to work constructively with its members and the government to realise the potential of tourism for Australia.
TTF View appears quarterly.