The Australian Tourism Export Council is calling on the Federal Government to allow backpackers on working holiday visas to extend their stay by a year if they spend 3 months working in tourism in regional Australia. ATEC says there are thousands of job vacancies in the tourism sector and that changes to the visa system could help to fill them. The council's managing director, Felicia Mariani, says competition from other countries for backpacker dollars is increasingly fierce. "The options are so much greater and access to some of these destinations now is much easier and much cheaper," she said. "The advent of low-cost carriers, particularly around South-East Asia, has created real competition for us in that market because those destinations are easy and cheap to get to, and then when you're there your dollar goes a lot further than it does here." She says Australia needs to offer backpackers a better deal if it hopes to compete for their money. At the moment, backpackers who work in a regional area for three months in agriculture, horticulture, construction, mining and fishing are entitled to stay on for an extra year. Ms Mariani says tourism should be added to the list, because there are too many job vacancies. She says the longer backpackers stay, the more they will spend. "A general backpacker who might come over on a travel visa for up to three months will stay on average about 70 nights and they spend just over $5,400," she said. "If they actually have a working holiday visa, they stay on average up to eight months and spend over $13,000 in that period. "We do have labour shortages given largely the fact that a lot of these tourism businesses are located in remote or regional parts of our country and it is also seasonal work, so finding labour to actually assist in the operation of those businesses can be a challenge. "So it is a good fit to actually help to short circuit some of the current labour shortages that we have particularly in regional parts of Australia. "There are 36,000 tourism vacancies right across this country at this very moment and by 2015 that is projected to go up to 56,000 vacancies." Ms Mariani says despite the high dollar, backpackers are still coming to Australia. "The decreases are small. They are sort of 2, 3 per cent kind of quarter on quarter, but what we are seeing is gradually that they are staying less time and they are spending less money," she said.