‘Ticket to recovery’ as government launches half price airfares

The Federal Government has announced a new $1.2 billion support package for the tourism sector as part of its National Economic Recovery Plan.

In short, the package is a mix of half-price airline tickets, cheap loans for businesses and direct support for airlines to keep planes in the air and workers in their jobs.

“This is our ticket to recovery – 800,000 half-price airfares to get Australians travelling and supporting tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines who continue to do it tough through COVID-19, while our international borders remain closed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard. 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.”

“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever. They want their tourists back. This package, combined with our vaccine roll-out which is gathering pace, is part of our National Economic Recovery Plan and the bridge that will help get them back to normal trading.”

The central pillar of the support package will see discounts offered on tens of thousands of fares per week across key tourism regions.

The half-price ticket program will initially operate to 13 regions including 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.

The discounts will be off the average fare and will be available on airline websites from April 1.

“The new Tourism Aviation Network Support Program will give Australians clear incentives to travel to key domestic tourism areas,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“We’re also backing the workforces of our international airlines and the teams and infrastructure they need so that when tourism takes off again and our borders reopen, our airlines are ready to go.”

While there was no explicit mention of a unified border framework, flights within each state and territory are not included, meaning any premier who closes their border will lose out of the scheme.

“Our Government’s support package will help get more Australians into those tourist areas most impacted by border lockdowns, and we need states and territories to do their part by agreeing to a nationally consistent approach to using border closures and lockdowns as a last resort on medical advice,” Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce described the announcement as “great news for Australian tourism”.

“I think it is an incentive for the states to keep their borders open. And that’s important, because we can’t keep on going through the yoyo of the ups and downs of that,” he said.

“This is great news for Qantas, but particularly for Qantas employees, who have suffered pretty badly over the last year.

“That’s good for the local tourism in those states – tourism that’s been devastated.

“We have been worried about the ecosystem of those little tour operators, the hotels that are there and making sure that they can survive until we can get international tourists back as well.

“That ticks the box in helping them. It also means we activate more aircraft.”

But not everyone is happy with the measures, with those destinations left off the list crying foul.

Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said the package was targeted to marginal east coast electorates, with just one WA destination on the list.

“Not only are WA destinations such as Kununurra, Busselton and Perth excluded from the Federal package, these WA destinations will lose more visitors and jobs as tourists opt to holiday in Queensland and Tasmania instead through discounted flights,” Hall said.

“WA tourism businesses need real support, not pork barrelling for Queensland and Tasmania.

“We urge the Federal and State Governments to provide direct support to all those businesses which are still facing a significant downturn due to interstate and international border restrictions and uncertainty.”

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner also described the $1.2 billion package as “very meagre package at best”.

“I don’t think this is going to help at all, really. It is about the borders,” he told Nine.

“Keeping the domestic borders open and getting the international borders open as soon as possible.”

Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond says the sector needs a continuation of a wage subsidy to replace JobKeeper.

“From accommodation providers and tourism operators through to transport companies, attraction operators, business event organisers and cultural organisations, many businesses are at the wall,” Osmond said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the package was too narrow in its scope.

“There’s nothing in this package for hotel operators, there’s nothing in this package for those people, for example, who are tourism operators, who will take people out on day trips,” he said.

“If you’re a tourism operator anywhere in Australia… who’s been relying upon JobKeeper to keep your doors open and to keep your businesses going and to keep people employed, you’re about to lose that support.

“So today’s announcement, what it does is magnify that in just a couple of weeks, the rug is about to be pulled.”