As we head into the Christmas season, I thought it timely to reflect on the outstanding performance and achievements of the tourism industry during 2014.

Having held tourism responsibilities for well over 12 months, I need no convincing that tourism is a great strength for Australia: something we do as well as anyone and better than most.

With the explosion of the Asian middle class on our doorstep – from 600 million now to 3 billion by 2035 – I am certain that tourism can be the fastest growing of the ‘five super-sectors’ identified by Deloitte.

Record results for tourism

The industry has achieved some record results this year, on both the international and domestic fronts.

International

International arrivals reached a record 6.3 million visitors, and expenditure is at an all-time high of $30.7 billion. Record breaking arrival numbers were achieved in both emerging and traditional markets.

Domestic

A new high for domestic overnight spend was recorded at $53.7 billion. Overnight trips and visitor nights experienced impressive growth of 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

The industry should be congratulated for securing these historic results.

More funding for tourism programmes

The Federal Budget demonstrated a strong funding commitment to tourism despite the tight fiscal environment. We provided record funding to Tourism Australia of over $143 million per year to continue its high quality and focussed marketing programmes.

In addition, we provided $43 million for a new Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure programme to assist the states and territories invest in tourism infrastructure that drives demand. We also allocated $10 million in new funding for the Australia-China Approved Destination Status scheme to ensure Chinese group tours continue with integrity.

Removing tax and red tape

My first act as tourism minister was to freeze the Passenger Movement Charge for the current term of office. We have also removed the carbon tax which was costing the tourism sector $115 million per year, and we dedicated two repeal days which have reduced redtape by over $2 billion.

New marketing campaigns rolled out

In May, Tourism Australia unveiled the Restaurant Australia campaign with exceptional food and wine experiences seeking to convert travellers’ desire to visit Australia.

Tourism Australia also announced a new group of China-based travel agencies to sell quality Australian holiday packages to China’s rapidly growing middle classes, and launched the Attracting Business Events to Australia initiative.

‘Attracting Business Events to Australia’ sets out a framework for the Australian Government – through Austrade and Tourism Australia – to work with industry during the bidding and event-delivery process. Under the new framework, Austrade will coordinate ministerial support for an event and will organise onshore and offshore promotion, while Tourism Australia will partner with industry to provide marketing and promotional materials.

Free Trade Agreements

Three landmark free trade agreements with key trading partners in the region were secured during the year with Japan, Korea and China. In particular, the FTA with China will assist investment in tourism assets and open up the inbound work and holiday market.

China will also guarantee access to its market by allowing Australian companies to operate wholly owned tourism-related businesses in China.

Investment flowing into tourism infrastructure

We have identified Tourism as one of only five National Investment Priorities to be supported by a dedicated Senior Tourism Investment Specialist in Austrade.

During the year, I hosted 45 investor roundtables in 17 countries. A highlight was the Australia Week in China (AWIC) trade mission – Australia’s biggest ever overseas trade mission to our most lucrative tourism market. The Wanda Group shortly afterwards announced a $900 million investment in tourism-related infrastructure on the Gold Coast.

Ease of travel

In October, the Government announced an expansion of nationalities able to access SmartGate automated border processing. SmartGate is now available on a trial basis to Canadian and Irish ePassport holders. In addition, eligibility trials are expected to commence by the start of next year for ePassport holders from China, Hong Kong and Japan.

Visa enhancements

On the visa front, we announced that international visitors attending the Cricket World Cup in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand will be able to use a single visa. For the important China market, multiple-entry three year business visitor visas were announced, as well as the recent commencement of a trial of electronic visa lodgment for Chinese visitors.

Improving access to skilled labour

This year the tourism and hospitality industry gained access for the first time to chefs on the Skilled Occupation List. I would also thank the industry for their leadership in advocating to government on this issue.

A Work and Holiday Arrangement concluded alongside the China Free Trade Agreement will allow 5,000 Chinese Work and Holiday Makers into Australia annually which will increase demand for tourism services and support the development of the sector.

We are also progressing changes to the 457 visa programme including to English language requirements to make it easier for the sector to employ skilled migrants.

The year ahead…

We already have a busy agenda shaping up for 2015.

I will take over 450 senior business figures on a major trade mission to India in mid-January – Australia Business Week in India. This will provide an opportunity to build on the Australia-India Tourism Memorandum of Understanding in Tourism I signed last month in the presence of PM Modi and PM Abbott.

I will chair a meeting of Tourism Ministers in early February which will discuss the Tourism 2020 Implementation Plan (2015-2020). Industry representatives will again be invited to attend the February meeting. I thank the leadership provided by the Transport and Tourism Forum (TTF), National Tourism Alliance (NTA), Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) and Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) for their outstanding contributions.

In aviation, the Government has secured a commitment from authorities in China, Malaysia and Qatar to hold formal air services talks during 2015. This follows the uncapping of Chinese capacity into Australia during the Chinese New Year in February 2014.

Tourism Australia are working on some exciting new projects for 2015 including expansion into second-tier cities in China, a campaign aligning with the Asian Football Cup, and a unique video which promotes the range of our Indigenous tourism experiences.

I wish you a safe and enjoyable Christmas Season and strong tourism success for 2015.

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