By Michael Crooks
If you need an excuse to take a holiday, how does a half-price airline fare sound?
Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $1.2 billion tourism support package, which includes subsidising half the cost of airline tickets to Australian tourist hotspots.
“This is our ticket to recovery – 800,000 half-price airfares to get Australians travelling,” Mr Morrison said.
The package aims to prop up the industry, supporting tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines that continue to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors as Australia heads towards winning our fight against COVID-19 and the restrictions that have hurt so many businesses,” Mr Morrison said.
The half-price incentive will be offered between April and July and operate to 13 key regions: the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region (Proserpine and Hamilton Island), the Sunshine Coast, Lasseter and Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, and Kangaroo Island.
Qantas and Virgin Australia have embraced the package, which is part of the Federal Government’s National Economic Recovery Plan. The stimulus will enable the airlines to begin bringing their 10,000 stood-down employees back to work.
“With the vaccine rollout now giving more certainty that state borders will stay open, this is the perfect time to provide stimulus and get people travelling domestically again,” said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
While industry groups have welcomed the move, many hoped for a more broader scheme.
Whilst welcoming the initiative, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been critical that Queenslanders can only use the scheme for interstate travel to two destinations – Alice Springs and Launceston.
“It’s good but unfortunately, it’s not good enough,” she said.
“I’m calling on the Federal Government to provide subsidised flights from Brisbane to Cairns to help further stimulate tourism demand in Far North Queensland.”
Travellers from interstate will be able to fly to Cairns, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Whitsundays and Hamilton Island, but if you’re from Queensland, you’ll need to pay the full fare to access those destinations.
Tourism & Transport Forum Australia (TTF) chief executive Margy Osmond said that the package “is a good start, but it will not be enough”.
“Many businesses are at the wall,” Ms Osmond said.
Earlier this year, the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia warned that 300,000 jobs would be lost from the tourism sector when JobKeeper finishes at the end of this month.
The group added that if the international borders are not opened earlier, then the most effective financial lever for the tourism industry would be a targeted wage subsidy scheme.
“Of course, the best ‘subsidy’ would be the early opening of international borders,” the TTF said in a statement.
The TTF also pointed out that while emergency state border closures remain a possibility, people may be reluctant to venture interstate.
“Some real improvements can be made to this package, which we will discuss with the government in the coming days and weeks,” Ms Osmond said.
Along with the half-price incentive, the Federal Government also announced it is continuing its other support programs of the tourism industry, including the Domestic Aviation Network Support program (DANS).
DANS guarantees, through government investment, that Qantas and Virgin will “operate a minimum domestic network” that services critical routes in Australia.
The “Zoos and Aquarium” program has also scored a six-month extension. The $94.6 million package supports Australian zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks affected by the pandemic.