City and regional airports warn of chaotic queues because of impending cuts to duty-free tobacco allowances, while the effect on Chinese travelers — expected to be spending $9 billion here by 2020 — will be dire.
As federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson concentrates on growing Asian arrivals — yesterday he announced $48.5 million in funding targeting Chinese and Japanese tourists — Australian Customs will cut the tobacco allowance to 50 cigarettes or 50 grams on September 1.
“The last thing I need as Tourism Minister is tension about Australian Customs tightening people’s ability to purchase duty-free cigarettes,” Mr Ferguson said yesterday.
Tourism groups said there was insufficient international advertising to alert inbound travelers to the changes.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive John Lee has written to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon claiming “there is very clear advice from the Australian Customs that there will be increased scenes of aggression in the customs halls of our international airports if the reduced allowances are brought into force. First impressions matter more to tourism than to any other industry and the delays and scenes of civil disturbance associated with this measure will inevitably lead to fewer repeat visitors or favorable referrals.”
The forum estimates more than one million visitors will be affected, as Customs estimates that one in five travelers will either have tobacco confiscated or be forced to pay duty.
“This number will be far higher among certain nationalities targeted for Australia’s tourism growth, notably the Chinese, among whom smoking rates average 60 per cent in wealthy travelers.”
Tourism groups are angered that the fast pace of the change will result in severe pressure on border protection staff.
Australian Airports Association chief executive Caroline Wilkie said: “Implementing this new restriction will cause significant pressure on airport infrastructure” and cause delays because Customs had not been given enough time or money for an education campaign and operational plan.
“We are asking the government to defer the implementation date until March 1, 2013.”
An overseas education program would not start until September 1 and would not involve electronic or print media, she said. “There will be no advertising of the change in China . . . one of the highest tobacco user countries in the world.”
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the government had committed $11.7m to introduce the change over two years. “There will also be an awareness campaign aimed at educating travelers, including online media, print media, new signage at airports and handouts,” a spokesman for Mr Clare said.