The tourism industry has skewered the government for increasing the backpacker visa charge from $280 to $350, saying it’s the latest slight against an industry that has already endured enough economic hardship and tax increases for one year.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive John Lee told SmartCompany this morning the decision could cause backpackers to seek alternative destinations for travel – which will be a major blow to both the economy and hospitality businesses which employ foreign tourists.
“Taxes and other charges add on to each other…they could question their destination and choose to go to Canada, or New Zealand, where visas are cheaper,” Lee says.
“It’s just sending the wrong message”
The visa charge was increased as part of the Mid-Year Budget Update on Monday, with backpackers to now pay $350 for a visa instead of the previous charge of $280.
Lee says the increase comes after the Federal Government also increased the passenger movement charge earlier this year, while an airport police tax has also been introduced.
“We thought our pain was over this year, and obviously not. This was without consultation, and without any regard for the tenuous state that we find ourselves in with regard to international visitors.”
The move is especially disappointing considering the tourism market is struggling against a dollar that has remained above parity for several months, and lower visitor numbers from countries like the United States.
Backpackers, Lee explains, are crucial to the economy and add over $2 billion a year.
“When they come they spend over $5,000 when they’re here. That’s vital, but the second point is that backpackers can be found working in regional Australia.”
Many working holiday-makers supplement the labor supply in resorts, hotels and hospitality jobs, Lee explains, which will make this move even more disastrous for both tourism and restaurants and catering – two sectors which continue to struggle.
“This just adds to charges that already exist, and it’s sending the wrong message to backpackers.”
The Victorian Tourism Industry Council also said in a statement the tax is “yet another barrier” to tourism.
“The move is particularly damaging to our regional centres which depend on visitors such as these to travel and work in their regions, and is contrary to the government’s current strategy to attract increased labour, particularly to rural and regional areas,” chief executive Dianne Smith said in a statement.