Australian Tourism Industry to unite against visa increase

Australia’s tourism industry will argue strongly against the Government’s plans to apply a 28.6% increase to the Working Holiday Visa (WHV) fee as outlined in last month’s Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

With around 30 of the most significant youth and backpacker products across Australia represented by the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC), the organisation will spearhead the issue on behalf of the industry with a joint letter to the Treasurer.

“The youth and backpacker segment of the tourism industry has been hit hard over recent years, suffering from the impact of the high Australian dollar, fierce international competition from other destinations, and the changing nature of youth travel which has seen more young people sticking to capital cities and minding their budgets,” ATEC board member and Director of Global Gossip, Peter Ovenden said.

“While uptake of the visa has held, the industry has seen clear signs of a contraction in this important sector, with youth travellers now spending less time in Australia and travelling far less to regional parts of the country. We cannot afford to give these travellers yet another reason to reduce their spending – or, worse yet, decide not to visit at all. ”

Mr Ovenden said yesterday’s Overseas Arrivals figures released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics showed a continuing and worrying negative trend in arrivals from the UK and Eurozone, a significant cohort of which is the youth traveller.

“The 5.1% decrease for the September quarter from the UK and other countries in the Eurozone is reflective of some of the ongoing pressures from the GFC and it is the youth market which has the potential to offset the decreases from these markets.”

“It is imperative we reinforce these markets as much as possible. An Australian ‘escape’ is a highly desirable alternative for young travellers facing difficult domestic economic pressures, so we should be doing our utmost to encourage them to choose Australia. The WHV has long been one of the great drawcards for young people visiting Australia giving them the opportunity to work in order to subsidise an extended Australian holiday and this has given us a real competitive advantage against our global rivals for the youth sector.”

“Analysis undertaken by ATEC this year identified that backpackers, and working holiday makers in particular, spend considerably more than the average international visitor, staying around 8 months and spending over $13,000 each. Minor adjustments to the program such as extending the ‘regional working’ category, reducing financial requirements and allowing multiple visa opportunities, which ATEC has also advocated for, could increase the spend of these visitors by around $700 million over a 10-year period.”

Since 2005, the WHV fee has doubled in cost and, when expressed in source country currencies, has tripled for youth travellers from the United Kingdom and increased by 2.5 times for the Europeans.

“The competitiveness of the structure of our WHV program is poor when compared to our major global competitors and continual increases to the visa cost have compounded to put significant pressure on the sector over a long period. These visitors are important for our industry and our economy, contributing to our short-term labour needs, particularly in regional and remote parts of Australia, and contributing significantly to our tax system.”

Mr Ovenden will launch a letter campaign on behalf of the industry when he speaks at the Adventure & Backpacker Industry Conference in Sydney this Thursday.

“ATEC intends on leading its members engaged nationally in the youth sector in this campaign, but we need the full support of the broader industry, and the backpacker segment in particular, to ensure our message is heard in Canberra.”

“We must speak with a united and strong voice in our opposition to this latest tax burden being applied. We encourage all members of the tourism industry to petition the Treasurer to rethink this increase and recognize the important role that tourism plays in contributing to Australia’s economy.”

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