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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, May 15 (IANS) For thousands of Indians and other international visitors, an Australian holiday will become dearer beginning July as Australian tourist visa fees and airport departure tax soar following the Kevin Rudd government's first budget.

The hike in tourist visa application fees from A$75 to A$100 (approx US$70-100), with the cost of a visa extension rising from $215 to $240, and the airport departure tax paid by travellers increasing by $9 from $38 to $47 will definitely hurt the Indian tourist.

Higher air fares and a strong Australian dollar rising against the Indian rupee make Australia an expensive destination for Indian tourists anyway. An average Indian tourist spends around $4,906 per trip, including prepaid international air fares and accommodation.

In 2007, as many as 95,200 Indians visited Australia, showing an increase of 14 percent over the previous year, and spending approximately $463 million down under. The average length of stay for Indian visitors is 50 nights, much higher than the average of 30 nights for all international visitors.

India is one of the top 15 inbound markets for tourist arrivals in Australia. Of the total arrivals of visitors from India in 2007, a significant growth was noted in holiday tourists (23,822), visiting friends and relatives (20,914), business tourists (24,922), education (10,333), employment (7,269) and others (7,951).

The increase in visa fees and airport departure tax, announced in the budget Tuesday, will certainly impact on Australia's hopes of attracting at least 113,000 Indian visitors in 2008 and more than 159,000 Indian tourists annually by 2010.

The increase in visa fees and departure tax comes at a time when tourist arrivals to Australia are growing only two percent a year compared with the world growth of six percent.

"At a time when the tourism industry is struggling to cope with a high Australian dollar and rising business costs such as fuel, food and labour, this has made our job of opening up new export markets for Australia much harder," Australian Tourism Export Council Managing Director Matthew Hingerty told the local media.

But the budget has some good tidings for skilled migrants looking at making Australia home. The government will increase intake of permanent immigration to a total of 190,300 people in the coming year in addition to an estimated 100,000 temporary skilled migrants.

An extra 31,000 skilled migrants will be allowed into Australia, a rise of 30 percent on last year's intake, to meet the growing skills shortages faced by employers.

Minister for Immigration Chris Evans said the move represented a "record increase" in the permanent skilled migration programme since the introduction of managed migration in 1947.

There were 14,660 permanent settler arrivals to Australia during March 2008, an increase of 13.3 percent. People born in New Zealand accounted for the largest proportion of settlers (17 percent), followed by people born in Britain (14 percent). India came third at 11 percent.

From 3,700 in 1995-96, the number of Indian migrants jumped to 11,286 in 2005-2006, reflecting the growth in the skilled migration programme.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any www.india-voice.com content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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