Make visas easier, industry urges, as figures show fewer restrictions drive tourism

A 20 percent rise in working holiday makers is driving business for tourism and accom operators in regional Australia, says a leading industry body.

Figures released this week by the government show 7,000 more second year working holidaymaker (WHM) visas were granted in the last financial year than in 2017-18, with more than 43,000 second year visa recipients.

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson says that since WHM holders need to complete three months of specified work in a regional area to be eligible for a second year visa, the statistics suggest regional businesses are benefiting from the increase.

“Working holidaymakers are an important component of the workforce for Australia’s accommodation providers and this can be particularly the case in regional areas where a sufficient local workforce may not be available,” Mr Johnson said.

“It is encouraging to see the federal government tweaking the WHM program to ensure Australia continues to attract young travellers, who as we know, spend the overwhelming majority of what they earn while in Australia.”

The figures add fuel to the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) argument for a government-funded study to identify areas where Australia has poor visa processing compared to its direct competitors.

ATEC has been vociferous in lobbying for faster, cheaper and more streamlines visa processing for key international holiday growth markets such as India and China.

“The global economy is rapidly changing and it’s inevitable the impact will be felt by Australia’s tourism industry therefore it’s important we address any visa related processes that negatively impact our desirability as a destination,” managing director Peter Shelley said.

“The visa benchmarking survey, a Coalition election promise, is a vital piece of analysis which will help build strategies that can address our global competitiveness and sandbag the industry against future downturns.

“The clock is ticking and our competitors are gaining greater market share over while we sit on our hands hoping the current system delivers.

“We are urging the Government to set the parameters and engage the process by the end of this year.”

ATEC wants Australian tourism visa policies measured against key competing destinations for the content length of applications, fees and costs, options for small group and family visas, competitiveness of multiple entry visas, processing efficiency and approval timelines.

“We have a visitor visa system which falls well behind best practice and we are constantly being outdone by countries like New Zealand and Canada who are much more nimble in moving to address systemic issues,” said Shelley.

“In some markets Australia’s visa application criteria are antiquated and just aren’t appropriate for today’s sophisticated and affluent traveller.

“Visa policy creates a massive difference to our industry and the right visa policy can drive the right outcome for all of us – with good visa systems the tourism dollars will flow.”

When it comes to WHM visas, Michael Johnson describes as “promising” the growth in second year applicants and says he anticipates recently announced changes to the program will “see further benefits flow through to regional accommodation businesses”.

“Allowing eligible visa holders to access a third year in Australia, increasing the number of visas allocated to our partner counties and raising the eligible age for French applicants to 35 will help ensure Australia remains an attractive option for young travellers,” he said.

“We also welcome the creative Australia Inc. campaign, which aims to position Australia as the world’s most desirable working holiday maker destination.”

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