Australia will offer a three-year multiple entry visa to Chinese travellers in an effort to catch up with regional rivals such as Indonesia and boost tourism. The new visa category brings Chinese tourists in line with their business-travelling brethren, but still leaves Australia with far tougher requirements than many other countries.
In November last year, the United States offered Chinese tourists a 10-year multiple entry visa, an initiative matched by Canada in March. Chinese travellers to South Korea and Indonesia are not required to apply for a visa.
“I think Australia is a slow mover compared to others,” said Bob Shen from Spring Tours in Shanghai. “But I still think it [the new visa] will have a positive impact.”
He noted Australia’s visa requirements were more relaxed than requirements in Europe and Britain but similar to those in Japan, which is experiencing a boom in Chinese tourists. Last month Japan issued a record 146,000 visas for Chinese tourists. Such was the demand that its consulate in Shanghai ran out of the special paper on which its visas are printed.
Mr Shen said he had been told by Australian consular officials that the number of Chinese tourists overstaying their visa had declined. Previously, Chinese travellers to Australia wanting a three-year multiple entry visa needed to receive a guarantee from their travel agent. Under these new laws the guarantee is no longer required.
The change was announced by Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb at a tourism awards ceremony in Adelaide on Friday night.
“Repeat visitors are an increasingly important market sector as they tend to stay for longer periods and are higher yielding in terms of their spending,” Mr Robb said.
Nearly 790,000 Chinese tourists visited Australia in the year to September 2014, spending close to $5.4 billion, according to Australian government figures. Of these, nearly half were repeat visitors. The number of Chinese tourists travelling overseas is expected to double to 200 million by 2020.
Australia is among the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists, who are attracted by the open spaces, clean air, fresh food and shopping. In the six weeks leading up to the recent Chinese New Year holiday, 124,000 tourist visas to Australia were issued, a 23 per cent increase on last year.
“Tourism and hospitality is one of Australia’s great strengths. It is our largest services export – worth $30 billion in export income – and directly or indirectly employs 1 million Australians, including large numbers in regional Australia,” Mr Robb said.