Australia is stepping up the battle to catch China’s fast-growing outbound tourist market, by changing the visa process to online applications, effectively making the nation one of the easiest in the world to visit.
Speaking at the Australian Tourism Directions Conference in Canberra yesterday, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Bowen said all international visitors, including Chinese, would be able to apply for visas online from 2013.
“In 2013, we will introduce a simplified visitor visa framework, to make it easier for visitors to choose the right visa option and to make it simpler to apply,” he said.
“In what I regard as a significant and positive move, to keep pace with visitor growth and greater global internet use, from next year we plan to progressively roll out online tourist visa applications to all countries.
“This reflects a move away from associating online lodgement only with low risk countries,” he said.
Current processing times in China range from three days for groups to five- to seven-days for individual travellers.
“Short term specialised workers will be moved to a new dedicated visa, the short stay Activity visa [while] visitors will continue to be able to undertake business activities, such as attending conferences and business negotiations,” he said.
“We are also looking at granting visas with a longer validity and eligibility for multiple entries to low risk repeat visitors.”
The move drew immediate support from the nation’s two leading accommodation industry associations.
“The willingness of the Government to streamline Chinese visa processing is welcome news and much needed. There is a lot of work to be done in this area if we’re to compete on a level playing field with competitor destinations such as Singapore already offering painless online visa systems,” Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) Managing Director Rodger Powell told HM.
The Accommodation Association of Australia’s CEO Richard Munro told HM it was a huge win for the industry.
“The Association welcomes the news that the Department of Immigration will be introducing electronic visa lodgements in 2013/14 for countries such as China, which should help to facilitate easier access to visas,” he said.
“This initiative will no doubt ease the process for applicants from China that in some cases have to fill in up to 48 pages in English to apply for an Australian visa.
“With the emergence of the Asian middle class as a key target market for Australian tourism – the number of visitors to Australia from China in the 12 months ending August 2012 was up more than 16 per cent on the same period last year, making it even easier for Chinese visitors to come to Australia is extremely important.
“Minister Bowen, together with Minister [Martin] Ferguson, their respective departments and Tourism Australia deserve credit for pursuing this change.”