Why we need an alliance for tourist visa reform

In the annual Current Affairs in Aviation lecture at the University of New South Wales today, I outlined the five biggest barriers to air transport growth in Australia. 

Air ticket taxes remain the number one bug bear of the air transport industry, dampening demand for travel as they do. 

However, visa fees have rocketed up the wider tourism and aviation industry's watch list. Much of this has focused on the Backpacker tax, but a wider acceptance of the inequity of charging most Asian visitors $140 while allowing Europeans to visit for no charge is fast taking hold. 

There is about to be a golden opportunity for change. Unless the tourism and aviation industries present a united front against the federal government, we could have a re-run of the Passenger Movement Charge introduction and subsequent rorting by federal governments. 

The European Union is close to introducing an electronic visitor visa waiver program modelled on the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and the Australian Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The planned EU Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS), will require Australians to lodge details in advance for any trip to the Schengen zone. 

A related, but separate, move by the UK towards electronic visa waivers is also likely to be extended to cover Australia as the post-Brexit government scrabbles for additional revenue. 

Why this matters is because our current fee exemption for Europeans (UK included) is based on reciprocity. Once this disappears, the federal government will be able to move Europeans to the ETA, for which the fee is currently $20. This is a windfall of $1.5 billion that could be used to fund a reduction in visa fees applying to Asian visitors. 

It won't be used for that, of course, unless a campaign is mounted. 

Message Shapers is working with a number of its clients to develop the narrative and conduct the research needed to mount such a campaign. We are interested in talking to anyone with a desire to see genuine reform of the visitor visa process.