Tourism ‘at end of the line for help’ and jobs at risk


The nation’s tourism sector has slammed the Rudd Government for not coming to the aid of the struggling industry despite giving billions to the car industry, saying they were placed at the “back of the line” because they did not have union backing.

The attack came as figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday showed the number of foreign visitors to Australia plummeted 5.1 per cent in November compared to the previous year.

The number of travellers heading overseas outstripped the number of foreign visitors to the country by more than 35,000 — the biggest tourist deficit in 23years.

Industry leaders, due to meet informally today with staff from Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson’s office, yesterday said an economic assistance package was essential to head off major job losses.

Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Matthew Hingerty said: “It (tourism industry assistance) is going to cost the taxpayer significantly less than the car industry funding package.

“But there’s a pattern emerging here, and that is if you’re an industry backed by a large unionised workforce, you can expect assistance — otherwise you’re at the back of the line.”

Kevin Rudd announced a $6.2billion assistance package for the car industry in November.

Mr Hingerty said he was “taken aback” by the sharp drop-off in overseas visitors, which was more dramatic than expected. He said forecasts pointed to a further 4.2 per cent slump in foreign visitors this year, which represented a $1billion fall in export revenue, or 200,000 visitors.

Since a peak in July, the number of visitors in November from the US dropped 9.5 per cent, from Japan 14.1 per cent, China 9.7 per cent and Singapore 10.1 per cent, in seasonally adjusted terms.

Over the year to November, the number of Australians travelling overseas climbed 2.3 per cent. But outbound travel declined 3.2 per cent in seasonally adjusted terms from October to November.

The industry is seeking tax incentives to boost domestic travel.

It is also seeking at least $60million in new funding

to help the tourism industry develop emerging overseas markets.

That includes a $50 million boost to the Export Market Development Grants Scheme and a new $10 million a year innovation fund.

Anecdotal evidence suggests domestic travel has held up over the past year, as domestic airfares this month hit a 17-year low.

Mr Hingerty stressed not all tourism businesses could switch from international to domestic travel, with many geared to specific markets.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury said travel agents had not seen a shift from international to domestic bookings. But he said people were less likely to book a domestic holiday through a travel agent.

“I definitely think the Government needs to provide an economic stimulus for the industry because it’s such an enormous employer,” he said.

Not all tourism operators are hurting as a result of the global financial turmoil.

At the $4000-a-night Palazzo Versace, a six-star Gold Coast hotel frequented by the celebrity set, well-heeled oil sheiks and Indian entrepreneurs are keeping business brisk. “We’ve been particularly busy,” the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Peter Grace, said yesterday.