Lower dollar has Australian tourism operators smiling, with India a prime focus: Tourism industry survey

Australian tourism operators have given a bullish assessment of the industry in the latest TTF-Mastercard Tourism Industry Sentiment Survey, with the sector’s performance in the December quarter at the highest level ever recorded for the survey.

Industry operators have cited the easing value of the Aussie dollar and the continued increase in tourism numbers from Asia, especially China, as key factors for the upbeat assessment.

The potential for tourism growth from the Indian market was also highlighted in the survey, with visa reforms, tourism marketing and air access identified as critical factors in cracking the emerging pool of Indian middle-class travellers.

Transport Tourism Fund chief executive Ken Morrison said the survey showed the industry was in good shape, with a lower Aussie dollar helping to boost overseas visitor numbers and making Australia a more affordable destination.

“Respondents rated the tourism industry’s performance in the December quarter at record levels, with the international performance index at 139 and domestic performance at 125, both well above the average for this time of year and the highest since the survey’s inception,” Morrison said in a statement.

“The TTF-MasterCard Tourism Industry Sentiment Survey backs up recent tourism data showing that international visitation continues to rise and that domestic overnight visitors are spending $1 billion a week around the country.”

Tourism operators are less worried by currency exchange rates than they were last year, with only 37% of respondents in the new survey saying it was an issue, compared to 53% for last year’s December quarter survey.

However, operators cited increased concerns about a shortage of skilled labour (up 8% from last year), inadequate room supply (also up 8%), and Australia’s reputation as a desirable tourist destination (up 6%).

Morrison said another key concern was the liberalisation of visa requirements for overseas tourists. He said this was especially important if Australia wanted to grow its share of visitors from emerging markets such as India, which was now seen as a huge and largely untapped market for Australian tourism operators.

“Visa reform is seen as the top priority to help grow visitation from India, with tourism marketing and air access the next most critical issues,” Morrison said.

“More broadly, visa reform is also seen as a key issue by the industry, especially moving to online processes in a range of languages, along with the cost of applications and the provision of multi-year visitor visas.”

Australia India Travel and Tourism Council chairman Sandip Hor told SmartCompany making the visa process easier for Indian tourists would bring Australia in line with the Indian government’s recent move to implement a streamlined visa-on-arrival program for Australian tourists.

“If the visa process is streamlined and made easier then it attracts more tourists; the tour operators love that. They say [to potential clients] that going to this country is very easy from getting a visa point of view,” Hor says.

He says Indian tourists often thought getting a tourist visa for travel to Australia was more difficult than for places like the USA, where Indian tourists had traditionally travelled in greater numbers.

“It is perceived in India that getting a visa to Australia is a difficult process – perceived.”

Hor says Australia had much to offer Indian tourists, especially beyond the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, but this was perhaps not being adequately communicated to potential tourists.

“The image of Australia that is seen overseas is often the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the Great Ocean Road, but Australia is a very big country and I think the entire nation has to be exposed. For example, Uluru, I hardly see it [in marketing material].”

Hor says a more evenly spread focus on attractions other than those in New South Wales and Victoria would help Australia appeal to tourists looking for different things from their travel experience, as well as relieve pressure on infrastructure and hotel room supply in Sydney and Melbourne.

This edition of the survey is being launched as Tourism & Transport Forum members gather at Parliament House in Canberra for Leadership 2014, TTF’s dialogue with the federal government and opposition on key issues facing the tourism, transport and aviation sectors.

The top five business impediments cited by survey respondents are:

  • Exchange rate (37%)
  • Reputable as a desirable tourist destination (30%)
  • Inadequate room supply (30%)
  • Shortage of skilled labour (28%)
  • Taxes and charges on tourists (25%)

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