Australia enters visa talks with Greece as youth travel industry faces crisis

Only a few days ago, ICEF Monitor reported that New Zealand has entered a working holiday scheme with Vietnam. Now it appears Australia is also enhancing its work and holiday visa plan, with news announced today that they will form an arrangement with Greece. It’s a welcome piece of good news for two countries that have seen their share of hardship these past few years. Our article below also makes note of Australia’s backpacker industry, which some say is facing its biggest crisis in history. For a country that has always been known as a leader in the youth travel industry, the news has many people on high alert as Australia heads into its spring season.

Work and holiday visa talks with Greece

The Australian Government will begin negotiations with Greece about establishing a reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangement, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, announced today.

Mr Bowen said Australia and Greece shared a strong and rich relationship based on firm community ties: “A work and holiday arrangement recognises the strength of these connections and will further enhance our cultural links between the two countries.”

The arrangement – said to be “a significant step” – would allow young Greeks and Australians aged 18 to 30 years old to enjoy an extended holiday in the guest country.

Participants would be able to stay for up to 12 months and engage in short term work and study during that time. The programme would have an annual cap on visa numbers.

“Negotiating a work and holiday arrangement, which must be reciprocal and agreeable to both governments, can take time to finalise and implement,” Mr Bowen said.

“While we recognise the level of enthusiasm by both Greeks and Australians around a successful outcome, we must ensure all key stakeholders are consulted and the necessary administrative arrangements are in place.”

Argentina was the latest country to enter a reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangement with Australia, joining a number of other countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

Australia’s backpacker industry in crisis

The good news regarding the working holiday scheme comes hot on the heels of an article in The Australian that the country’s backpacker tourism industry is facing the biggest crisis in its history, with many tour operators struggling to survive following big falls in young travellers.

The number of people staying in hostels has fallen by nearly 7% over the past two years, down from 593,000 per year in March 2010.

The numbers of international backpackers staying in hostels were down in every state in the year ending March 2012, Tourism Research Australia figures show.

backpacker tourism industryThere was a 20% fall in backpackers from the UK – Australia’s largest source market – since 2010.

Tour operators blamed the strong Australian dollar, global economic uncertainty and increased competition from cheap Asian destinations for the fall. Australia’s unpredictable weather and tight regulations were also contributing factors, while miners were taking up beds in some areas and pushing up prices.

Terry Ramsay, from Red Earth Safaris in Western Australia, said the number of companies operating on the Perth to Exmouth route had fallen from nine to three over the past five years and others were amalgamating.

“Tour companies are dying – we are 40% down over the last three years as there have been less and less arrivals into the country,” he said.

Brendan McKenna, from Base Backpackers, said this year was extremely tough: “Sydney is very quiet,” he said. “If Sydney is empty it is very worrying.

“The industry feels overlooked. Backpackers can be viewed badly but they spend a lot of money. The youth market did help pull Australia through the GFC.”

Backpacker Youth Tourism Council chairman Peter Ovenden said the industry was facing its most challenging time in 20 years. But he said it could pull through with new, innovative tours and more marketing help from state governments.

“The exchange rate is pegged against the industry but small operators are very entrepreneurial and we hope they will tap into new countries for business,” said Ovendon.

Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said backpackers were a very important part of the country’s visitor mix.

“These people tend to stay for long periods, which is great in terms of the tourism dollars they spend here,” he said.

“Importantly, today’s backpackers are often tomorrow’s high rollers, coming back to Australia down the track, often with their families, so it is critical that we work hard now to deliver the best of first impressions.”

A few quick facts from Tourism Research Australia (figures from March 2011- March 2012) about backpackers include:

  • Backpackers spend an average AUS$5578 on a trip to Australia;
  • Contribute AUS$3 billion to the economy each year;
  • Spent AUS$71 per night on average;
  • Stay 78 nights in Australia on average.

Read more news on Australia here.

Sources: Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, The Australian



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