Does Australia need to reform its visa program for Chinese tourists?

by Ray Clancy on November 27, 2014

in Australia Travel

There are calls for Australia to look again at its visa provision for Chinese people after the latest statistics show there has been a slowdown in the number of arrivals.

While much has been done to boost the number of visas available to wealthy business people, it is claimed that not enough is being done for tourists from China.

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Should Australia make changes to its visa process for Chinese visitors?

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for September showed international arrivals grew 6% month-on-month with arrivals for the year ending in September up 8.2%.

But this masks a slowdown in Chinese visitors, according to the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF). It pointed out that the number of Chinese visitors increased by just 7.3%, but annual growth has dropped to 10.5%.

‘A slowdown in arrivals from China underscores the need for reform to our visa processing system to make it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Australia,’ said TTF chief executive officer Margy Osmond.

‘Australia is missing out on Chinese visitors, with the national China Tourism Academy estimating that outbound travel by Chinese tourists will grow by 20% this year. While Australia is getting 10.5% growth, our rivals are doing much better, with Chinese visitors to the US up 23% and to Canada up more than 30% in 2014,’ she explained.

‘These countries are among those which have made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit by streamlining their visa application processes by moving them online and reducing the time and complexity. Australia’s outdated visa process for China means we are being left behind as our rivals move to improve their competitiveness by modernising their approach,’ she added.

However, officials point out that the recently agreed upon Chinese Australia Free Trade Agreement will boost visitors, and not just Chinese businesspeople. Under the agreement, Australia will also provide up to 5,000 Work and Holiday visas to the Chinese, which should give a boost to the Australian tourism industry.

But the TTF said that part of the problem is not just the number of visas available, but the complexity of the Australian system. It explained that someone from Malaysia wanting to visit Australia can apply for a visa online, pay $20 and receive almost immediate approval.

‘But Chinese visitors must fill in a complex form on paper, pay $130, provide significant documentary evidence and wait three weeks to find out if their application has been successful,’ said Osmond.

‘Australia needs to reform its visa processing to ensure we are not placing unnecessary barriers in front of legitimate visitors wanting to come here. Unless we do that, we risk continuing to lose market share to countries which have recognised the opportunity the Chinese travel market represents and have taken steps to prioritise growth from that market,’ she explained.

She also pointed out that while three-year, multiple entry visas for Chinese business visitors were introduced earlier this year, the same has not been done for leisure travellers.

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