38 billion reasons to back us, backpacker saga continues, putting fair in Opal fares, and a website refresh

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that TTF has a brand new corporate website! We’ve refreshed our website with a modern, streamlined design allowing our members and stakeholders to easily access the wealth of research and public comment that TTF produces on behalf of the tourism, transport and aviation sectors. I hope you can take a moment to have a quick browse of the new site and let us know what you think.

Much like a new episode in Star Wars the backpacker tax saga continues with submissions to the working holiday maker visa review closing in the last week. TTF has put in our submission on behalf of members making the strongest case possible for the Federal Government to abandon this ill-considered tax hike on backpackers. I had the opportunity to speak to Peter van Onselen and Kristina Keneally on Sky News earlier this week on the shemozzle that has been the backpacker tax. I made the point that the damage that this tax is already doing to Australia’s reputation – with anecdotal evidence of overseas agents no longer recommending Australia as a working holiday destination – is going to end up costing the Federal Government rather than raise revenue.

Also last week, the Federal Government was given 38 billion reasons why the visitor economy should be put front and centre of the economic agenda. According to the latest figures, released by Tourism Research Australia, international visitor numbers increased to 7.2 million (up 10 per cent), visitor nights increased to 248 million (up 5 per cent) and expenditure reached a record $38.1 billion (up 14 per cent). The challenge for the 45th Federal Parliament is not to drop the ball on backing the visitor economy. The international visitor market is becoming increasingly cutthroat as more nations wake up to the economic benefits of a strong tourism sector.

Quite frankly, I don’t believe we should be happy with $38.1 billion in international expenditure. We can do a lot better than that considering Australia is attracting less than 1 per cent of the potential Chinese visitor market. Australia simply cannot afford to sit back and expect that ‘The Rock, The Reef and The House’ is enough on its own to maintain the strong double digit growth we have been experiencing in visitor numbers and international expenditure.

TTF will be continuing to push our economic plan for the Government to slash the fees and charges which add to the cost of travelling to Australia, invest in tourism marketing, support industry securing its workforce for the future, build the visitor infrastructure and public transport that improves the experience of visiting our cities and regions, and recognise the importance of improving the visitor experience at our international gateways.

This week we have seen the NSW Government introduce pragmatic changes to make Opal fairer overall for Sydney’s public transport users with half-price fares after the eighth trip and a $2 discount on switching transport modes. We need to be realistic that free public transport after the eighth trip was part of the incentive to switch to Opal and get the system bedded down over the five years of its implementation, but like all good things even this must come to an end. TTF has been a vocal critic of the unfair penalty of paying full fares when switching between transport modes. The $2 discount will take some of the sting out of switching between buses, trains, trams and ferries and encourage people to use the best mix of modes to get to their destination.

No one likes price rises but as our recent TTF survey of more than 300 NSW residents, for the Australian Transport Summit held in late August, revealed that 42 per cent were willing to pay higher fares for better public transport services, 30 per cent wanted to pay less and 28 per cent were unsure. With nearly one in three people unsure about what they are willing to pay for public transport, there is an opportunity for Government to continue to demonstrate value for money with improved services and new infrastructure. Travellers are pragmatic enough to recognise that you don’t get world-class public transport for nothing, we’ve all got to chip in.

Finally, you may have heard that the Victorian Minister for Tourism John Eren suffered a heart attack on Father’s Day. Fortunately, he was actually at a hospital when it occurred and the medical advice is that he is expected to make a full recovery. The best wishes of TTF are with John and his family and we hope to see him back at his post as a great advocate for the sector soon.