Singapore beating us on tourism: Packer

The Crown boss, James Packer, says Australia is not keeping up with countries like Singapore in the race to win over Chinese tourists.

Packer, who wants to build another casino in Sydney, said Singapore was a case study of how a country with a well-mapped-out strategy can transform its tourism infrastructure and create tens of thousands of jobs by attracting a larger share of the Chinese tourist market.

"Ten years ago in Singapore there were growing concerns about flat tourist numbers and complaints from some tourists that the country had nothing new to offer," he told a tourism and transport forum conference in Canberra.

"In 2004 the government decided to build two of the world's largest integrated resorts with an extremely diverse range of leisure and entertainment activities, including casinos.

"Just two years after the opening of those integrated resorts Singapore is reaping the economic and employment benefits beyond anyone's expectations.

"Singapore received 1.5 million Chinese visitors in 2011, an increase of 34 per cent on 2010 and a 68 per cent increase on 2009, before the integrated resorts [Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa] opened.

"It became imperative to build or lose out to rival countries. Given the success, integrated resorts are now being planned or developed in Vietnam, Korea, Philippines, Japan and in Europe."

Mr Packer said 80 per cent of Chinese travellers going overseas for the first time visited a casino and that they wanted luxury experiences, including high-end shopping.

"Unless we appreciate what the rising Asian middle class want and unless we cater for their desires, we have little hope of taking advantage of the opportunity [of booming Chinese tourist numbers]."

Mr Packer said Australia also had to streamline its visa process for Chinese tourists.

"Let me give you one guess who has the world's best practice in visa processing. Yes, it is Singapore. Currently the average processing time for a visa to Australia is two to five days, compared with a one- to two-day turnaround via an online application to Singapore.

"To make this even harder, Chinese tourists coming here have to download the visa application, complete it in English, and then post it to an Australian consulate with their passport.

"That means they will be without their passport for up to five days. I don't know about you, but the day I put my passport in the hands of any postal service is the same day I will put my credit card details on the internet."

Meanwhile, a new global tourism campaign to woo young travellers to Australia has been announced by Tourism Australia.

The campaign will include fresh promotion of the working holiday visa, the fee for which was controversially increased by $80 to $360 recently by the federal government.

The youth market of travellers aged between 18 and 30 accounts for a quarter of all Australian international arrivals, according to Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy.

There were 1.6 million youth travellers to Australia in the past 12 months, who spent an average $7000 and stayed an average of 68 nights.

The working holiday visa is limited to 19 countries and is most popular among New Zealanders, Britons, Chinese, Japanese and Americans.

Mr McEvoy says young travellers from Asian countries are becoming increasingly independent and he expects a big response to the campaign from them.

No further details about the campaign have been revealed but it will be rolled out early next year, soon after the visa fee increase comes into effect.

Tourism officials say the timing of the campaign and the fee increase are coincidental.

The youth push was announced at the Australian Tourism Directions conference in Canberra today.

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