Visa system needs update to keep Asian tourists flying in

AN OVERHAUL of the visa system, including allowing more online processing of visa applications, is essential to stop Australia falling behind in competition for the lucrative Asian travellers' market.

That was the message from Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond, as she released new industry research on visas in Canberra on Tuesday.

Ms Osmond said while incoming Chinese visitors increased by 15% in the past year, the proactive visa reforms in the United States and Canada saw their intake rise 23% and 30% over the same period.

The TFF report, which compared Australia's visitor visa regime with key Western competitors' systems, found our nation was "falling behind" in the key source markets of Indonesia, China and India.

It recommended fast-tracking online visa applications, making applications available in languages other than English and creating "fee for service" visas to allow faster processing for those willing to pay more for a tourist visa.

Ms Osmond said while Australia had capitalised on being one of the first countries to be registered as a destination for Chinese tourists in 1999, reforms overseas had eroded that advantage.

While visa reform was the industry lobby group's chief reason to be in Canberra on Tuesday, Ms Osmond also said she was "deeply disappointed" by the Abbott government's recently released industry policy.

She said the policy, which focused on improving competitiveness in high-end manufacturing, mining and agriculture, had largely ignored tourism as one of the five key growth industries.

"We have had four reports out from respected economic forecasters like Deloitte in recent years highlighting the potential of tourism, and yet we barely rated a mention in the policy," she said.

"While we think there needs to be a stronger focus on tourism, the visa reform remains the biggest issue - it affects every tourism business in Australia."

Ms Osmond said she was seeking meetings with a range of government ministers on potential reforms to the visa system.


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