By Peter Shelley, Managing Director, Australian Tourism Export Council
The export tourism industry has a far reach. While our members provide tourism services to international visitors here specifically to enjoy a holiday, they also serve customers who come to see their friends and relatives (VFR), for business and for education. And while some of these markets have returned strongly, like VFR, business events and leisure holidays are still lagging.
In fact, international visitor holiday maker numbers are still down 50% on pre-covid levels showing we remain a long way off from a full export tourism recovery.
While our members don’t expect to see a full recovery for another 12 months or more, there are some key efforts we can make in collaboration with the Government to help improve the User Experience (UX) and pull down any barriers to intending visitors making a commitment to that booking.
One area ATEC has long been focused on is visa reform including reducing fees for some visas like the Working Holiday Maker visa, introducing visa classes which better suit families, and benchmarking our visas against other destinations to ensure we have a competitive product. But we also need to make sure our visas are accessible and ready to work for intending visitors.
One of the barriers we are concerned about is the Electronic Travel Authority app which is used across several inbound markets including some of our key growth markets. This app is used for visitors from low-risk markets to apply for their holiday visa and while the tool uses technology to deliver a quick and easy visa process, its lack of in-language guidance for non-English speakers means anyone who misinterprets a question and makes a mistake, gets shifted into the manual processing pile where they can wait weeks or longer for their application to be processed. Simple, translated content which can support people to answer correctly in English need to be included as part of the app to help limit misinterpretation and support more applications through the process.
As we move towards this year’s budget, one that by all accounts will be heavily focused on financial stability and finding areas for savings, ATEC is reminding the Federal Government that inbound tourism is a long way from recovery.
As an industry that contributes more than 3% of GDP and delivers economic opportunity and employment to regional areas across Australia, we need strong Government backing in ensuring we remove as many impediments to recovery as possible.
We’ve always known that tourism drives economic growth and now is the time to support our industry to return to our pre pandemic international visitor numbers and spend.