Senator calls for tourism sector shakeup

The Australian tourism sector is booming thanks to the Asian appetite for travel, according to an industry report released yesterday, but there are concerns the industry is hampered by regulations.

The State of the Industry report by Tourism Research Australia shows the Australian tourism industry brought in $101.6 billion in 2013-14, while total visitor spend was up by 4%.

Asian markets were the largest contributor to Australian tourism exports, accounting for 47% of international visitor expenditure, with the report forecasting continued growth of 10.5% for China tourists, 6.6% for India and 5.8% for Singapore.

Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm has used the spotlight on tourism to call for a shake-up of regulatory burdens he says are holding the industry back.

Max Rheese, a spokesperson for the senator who has worked closely on the tourism campaign, this morning confirmed to SmartCompany Leyonhjelm believes a range of measures should be considered to give the sector the best chance at competing globally.

These proposed reforms include extending the 12 month working holiday visa extension program to the tourism industry, the creation of a 38 hour working week salary that would include Saturdays and Sundays without penalty rates, reducing the cost of visas for Chinese tourists and scrapping or lowering the departure tax.

“We believe that tourism has been treated like a Cinderella,” says Rheese.

“It has been ignored and then every now and then, when it shows a flash of brilliance, then tourism gets attention.”

He says the senator wants to look at ways the industry can cut regulatory constraints in the sector because of a growing employment gap.

“Right now we’re regulating people out people out jobs. Most of this [reform] wouldn’t even require legislation but could be done with tweaking regulations.”

Rheese says the tourism industry, as the second largest sector in Australia, should benefit from advantages offered to other industries such as agriculture. He says the working holiday-maker visa, which allows international workers to extend their stay in Australia if they complete a stint of fruit picking, should be opened up to tourism jobs, arguing many of the 36,000 job vacancies in the tourism industry require lower levels of skills and training.

“We need people to clean rooms and make beds, things that are integral to tourism. But businesses are being restrained through labour laws and minimum wages,” he says of the proposed reform of penalty rates.

Leyonhjelm will also push for the processes and fees for Chinese tourists need to be reviewed, according to Rheese.

Currently, Chinese tourists pay six-and-a-half times more than tourists from other countries such as Malaysia and are required to fill out a 15 page paper application in English.

“The Chinese are the highest number of tourists and it is almost designed to turn them off coming to Australia.”

Rheese says, in contrast, the US has a streamlined application process and free visas for Chinese tourists.

Rowan Barker, spokesperson for the Tourism and Transport Forum, agrees Australia can’t be globally competitive with such processes.

“We’re marketing to these people on one hand and putting barriers in front of them on the other,” says Barker.

“It’s a massive, massive opportunity and we need to make sure we’re not making it any more difficult than any other country.”

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