Tourism drive: Visas online

In an effort to lure more foreign tourists to Australia, particularly Chinese, the federal government is introducing changes to visa applications.

Tourists from all countries will be able to apply for a tourist visa online in a program being rolled out over the next two years, according to media reports.  Crown Limited (ASX: CWN) chairman, James Packer, has been urging the government to encourage more Chinese tourists to Australia. China is our biggest tourism source, according to Trade Minister Craig Emerson, with the average Chinese tourist spending over $7,000 per trip.

Mr Packer has criticised the current process for Chinese tourists, which include filling out a new form in English for every visit, and then posting the form and passport to the Australian consulate for processing. Australia has just three consulates in China – meaning processing times can be longer than a week. By comparison, tourists from Singapore can apply online, said Mr Packer.

With more than half of all tourists coming from Asia, the new moves certainly seem to make sense.  Of course, Crown will benefit from increased tourism, as visitors take time out to visit the company’s Melbourne casino. And with plans to build a six-star hotel and VIP/high rollers casino complex in Sydney, the more tourists, the better. That should also generate more interest for high rollers to visit Australia.

On a similar note, Echo Entertainment Group (ASX: EGP) would be keen to see a jump in the influx of tourists – especially gamblers – with its casinos in Brisbane, Townsville, the Gold Coast and the jewel in its portfolio – The Star in Sydney.

Increased tourism will undoubtedly benefit many companies in Australia. With our strong currency, trading above parity with the US dollar, it may be dissuading many tourists from visiting, so any extra advantage we can gain over other countries would be welcome.

The recent arrival of the first direct service between Cairns and China yesterday, by China Eastern Airlines, and the extension of the trial until September next year, bodes well for tourism in Far North Queensland. We may yet see Virgin Australia Holdings (ASX: VAH) or Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) begin flights from Cairns direct to China.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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