January 23, 2023 | By Graeme Kemlo | Image credit: Life’s an Adventure walking group on the Mornington Peninsula

Victoria’s peak body for adventure and youth tourism is leading an industry call for changes to the Working Holiday Visa (WHV) Program as the state faces up to a 44 per cent job vacancy rate in hospitality and tourism.

Adventure Tourism Victoria (ATV) is calling on the sitting Labor Government to advocate on behalf of Victoria’s regional tourism and hospitality businesses and allow working holiday makers (WHMs) to extend their stays in Victoria.  The state is potentially missing out on $1,3 billion in tourism revenue due to the decline in WHV applications over the past decade.

ATV describes itself as a new generation, not-for-profit organisation whose purpose is to support the adventure tourism market in Victoria.

Among those supporting this call is the Victorian Tourism Industry Council with CEO Felicia Mariani saying: “Australia has been non-competitive in this space for too long. In fact, working holiday makers seeking to come to Australia peaked in 2013, with just over 258,200 visas granted that year. We have seen a steady decline of WHV numbers since then, with just 209,036 visas granted in 2019.”

ATV President Alex Hill, supported by VTIC and a number of regional tourism bodies and operators, has called on the Andrews Government to fight for Victoria’s visa conditions for WHMs to be in line with the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia and Queensland that are north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

He said currently in Victoria Subclass 417 and Subclass 462 visa holders are required to complete 88 days of agricultural or other specified work in regional Victoria to extend their visa for an additional year.

This restriction does not apply in Northern Australia where visa holders can complete work requirements in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

“Whilst there are some postcodes in Victoria that currently fall into this category most are not in traditional, regional tourism hotspots and many are not where critical shortfalls of jobseekers are currently being experienced….  ATV considers WHMs to be essential to Victoria in terms of tourism dollars spent as well as a source of labour,” Hill said, adding that making Victoria an attractive destination for WHMs needed to be a “top priority”.

He said Victoria’s regions currently face an unemployment rate of 2.8 per cent and a job vacancy rate of 28 per cent (444,000 vacancies) and that this vacancy rate increases to 44 per cent when only looking at hospitality and tourism.  Recent research commissioned by ATV found that 40 per cent of WHMs did not enter Victoria and that since 2013 the Australian economy has missed out on over $1.3 billion, due to falling visa approvals.

“Changing the conditions for Subclass 417 and 462 visa holders is the first step in making Victoria a destination for working holiday makers, which will significantly benefit Victorian businesses, the Victorian economy and improve Australia’s standing as a destination for this highly mobile and incredibly lucrative visitor segment.”

Supporting documentation issued by ATV said the youth market totalled 300,000 arrivals or 27 per cent of all international visitor arrivals to Australia, yet 45 per cent of all visitor spend.