Australia’s Shadow Tourism Minister Bob Baldwin has confirmed if the Coalition wins Government it would introduce electronic visas for Chinese travellers.
At the China National Tourism Administration Dinner in Sydney on Monday night (Nov 19), Baldwin said a future Coalition government would implement the electronic lodgement of visas, the extension of multiple entry visas for Chinese visitors and premium visa processing – a move applauded by the tourism industry.
“I have been asking many people the simple question… what can the Australian Government do better to support more Chinese tourists coming to Australia?,” Baldwin said.
“And there is one message I have heard loud and clear – we need to have more welcoming visa arrangements.
“There are therefore threes key aspirations I will be working on should I be the Australian Tourism Minister from next month.
“The first is electronic lodgement of visas. I know Singapore is doing this already and I want us to be at least as good as the best in the world.
“Secondly, I would like to see multiple entry visas to encourage greater repeat visitation to Australia. I met recently with Isabel Hill who is director of the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries for the United States Government. Hill advised me the United States was looking to extend their multiple entry visa even further.
“Maybe I am a little biased but I believe Australia is a country beautiful enough to see more than once! And we should have a visa system that recognises this.
“The other aspiration I have is that we not only improve the current processing time service standards but that we also look at trialling a premium processing time visa where we could offer, say, a 24 hour turnaround for a visa application for an additional fee.
“Ladies and gentleman, these are my aspirations. This is what I want an elected Coalition Government to be working towards,” Baldwin said.
Australia’s largest hotel operator, Accor, a company that has a major focus on inbound Chinese travellers, has welcomed the Coalition’s plans.
“As our relationship with China continues to grow through travel and tourism we welcome new steps proposed by the Coalition to ensure the longevity and repeat visitation from Chinese tourists,” said Accor’s Chief Operating Officer – Pacific, Simon McGrath.
“A new visa system that can achieve multiple entries, faster processing time and electronic lodgement will bolster the free independent traveller from China to come back for a second visit without the visa hassles.
“We applaud the Coalitions on their plans to advance our country’s economy through tourism and strengthen our ties with our fastest-growing inbound market.
“Pleasingly, the Coalition is rightly focusing on tourism and understands the massive economic value of tourism to the wider community.
“The aspirations outlined in Minister Baldwin’s address are a clever approach to ensure Australia has a revitalised tourism economy for the long term, and not just in the peak periods.
“Chinese tourists are going to be vital to the success of the Australian tourism industry in coming years, and as the first hotel group in Australia to introduce Optimum Service Standards for Chinese visitors we have seen the impact this has had on the number of Chinese tourists staying with us.
“With over 50 accredited hotels for Chinese visitation, Accor has reported a 54% growth in business from China in 2013 to date compared to the same period last year.
“It is projected that Asia will account for more than half of the growth in international visitors for Australia in the next decade and with 500 million Chinese set to join the middle class or higher during that period, it is clear that the Australian tourism industry needs to work hard to attract their share of this market. As an industry, we must ensure we can meet the demands of these travellers as they seek out international travel experiences,” he said.
The Coalition’s move has also been applauded by the Accommodation Association of Australia (AAoA) and the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF).
“Australia is facing stiff competition from other destinations for visitors from China with high levels of discretionary spending which is why our current visa restrictions are one of the biggest concerns for Chinese travel companies,” AAoA’s CEO Richard Munro told HM.
“In particular, free independent travellers from China are required to complete visa documents up to 38 pages long – even for a short-stay holiday.
“In addition, tourists over 75 years old are required to undergo a medical examination, seek individual approval from Canberra and pay additional fees.
“Currently, Australia welcomes more than 685 000 Chinese visitors annually (2012/13) and such changes would enhance the chances of pushing this figure to 1 million by 2020.
“Whichever of the major parties is successful at the election should embrace change in this important policy area,” he said.
TTF’s CEO Ken Morrison said this is “welcome news for the industry”.
“Anything that makes it easier for Chinese visitors to come to Australia is a positive step,” he said.
“We are encouraged to see that a Coalition government would continue to work towards an online visa application process.
“We also support his commitment to further extending existing multiple entry visas and we would welcome a review of the current system to consider allowing two to three-year visitor visas.
“Tourism is a highly competitive global industry, so removing administrative barriers to entry makes it easier for travellers to choose Australia over other destinations.
“We are also strongly in favour of providing a premium visa processing option for people who wish to have their application expedited.
“There’s no practical reason we must maintain a ‘one size fits all’ approach to visa processing.
“Almost 700,000 Chinese visitors came to Australia in 2012-13, up more than 100,000 on the previous 12 months.
“Changes like these will encourage that growth to continue and support the more than 530,000 Australians who work in the tourism industry around the country,” Morrison said.
The move comes as China Southern Airlines prepares to upgrade Brisbane flights to a daily operation from November 21, representing a 75% increase in the route’s capacity, and reintroduce seasonal flights to Cairns from Guangzhou.