The federal government is subsidising half the cost of 800,000 eligible airfare tickets for domestic travellers as part of a $1.2 billion support package for the struggling tourism industry.
The program, scheduled to run from April to July, is the next step in economic support for the tourism industry after JobKeeper ends in March.
“This is our ticket to recovery,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. “This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard.”
Qantas and Virgin both welcomed the news, with Qantas planning to put 550,000 total eligible tickets on sale during the period, or 32,000 per week.
Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said for the scheme to work effectively, state governments need to co-operate by maintaining open borders.
“The key things that we need now that the vaccine is rolling out is that we need state and territory leaders to make sure that the border closures are very much a last resort,” Tehan said. “We want people to have the confidence to travel again.”
“All the surveys that have been done show that people’s biggest concern now about travelling is not COVID-19; it’s actually border closures and being locked out of their states.”
Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott expressed support for the package, calling it “job-saving.” She also echoed Tehan’s words, calling for state leaders to end “knee-jerk” border closures which destroy confidence and make holidaying impossible to plan.
Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner was disappointed in the announcement, saying it will do little to help the industry. He also cited border closures as a more pressing concern for the recovery of the tourism industry.
“It is a very small, very meagre package at best,” he said on the Today Show. “I don’t think this is going to help at all, really.”
“It is about the borders. Keeping the domestic borders open and getting the international borders open as soon as possible.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has repeatedly been calling for more government assistance, said the package wasn’t good enough.
“Much more direct support is still needed for the many tourism operators impacted by the end of JobKeeper,” Palaszczuk 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.
Meanwhile, Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said he was “jubilant” at the announcement and encouraged Aussies to start making plans to visit the Coast. He urged Palaszczuk to stop being “trigger-happy” on border closures and keep them open.
Then-Tourism Minister Kate Jones estimated the snap border closure between Queensland and New South Wales over the summer holidays cost the nation an estimated $7 billion.
Palaszczuk made the decision in response to the growing Northern Beaches cluster in Sydney at the time, leaving many interstate tourists stranded and uncertain.
The support package will also help airlines maintain around 8600 jobs and subsidise costs for training, certification, and accreditation to ensure they can expand again when the market completely opens.
Initial flight destinations will operate in 13 regions:
Queensland: Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region (including Proserpine and Hamilton Island), and the Sunshine Coast.
Northern Territory: Lasseter and Alice Springs
Tasmania: Launceston, Devonport, and Burnie
Western Australia: Broome
New South Wales: Merimbula
South Australia: Kangaroo Island