The federal government will halve the price of nearly 800,000 airline tickets as part of a $1.2 billion package aimed at getting more Australians to spend big on domestic holidays.
The move is designed to prop up ailing parts of the tourism and aviation sectors, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and which fear the end of the JobKeeper program later this month.
Between April and July, a 50 per cent discount on tickets will be offered for flights to and from 13 regions that normally rely heavily on international visitors.
The destinations are the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays region, the Sunshine Coast, the Lasseter region which includes Uluru, Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula and Kangaroo Island.
Routes and the precise number of tickets will be driven by demand and are still being discussed with airlines, but it is estimated an average of 46,000 half-price fares will be offered each week mostly with Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar.
They will be available for sale on airline websites from April 1.
Senior government ministers hope this new package will encourage cashed-up Australians, who normally travel to Bali or Europe during Autumn and Winter, to instead spend their money at home.
They say a flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast could be as cheap as $60 and boost traffic on the route by as much as 40 per cent.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever.
Many of the initial destinations included in the program are in marginal or winnable electorates for the government.
However, it insists the program is targeted at locations that still have the highest dependence on JobKeeper, international tourists and domestic flights.
More locations and routes may also be included later in the year, depending on demand.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the package was about more than just encouraging Australians to travel domestically.
“We’re also backing the workforces of our international airlines and the teams and infrastructure they need,” he said.
The Government will provide support to Qantas and Virgin to keep 8,600 international flight workers employed and planes in a condition to resume service when borders reopen.
Private equity firm Bain Capital bought Virgin for $3.5 billion in November.
Training and accreditation for ground crew will also be subsidised until the end of September.
Existing support, like waivers for airport security charges, relief from Airservices Australia fees, subsidies for regional routes and international freight assistance have also been extended to September.
Zoos and aquariums will also have their financial support extended for another six months, while struggling small and medium businesses will also be eligible for loans worth up to $5 million over a 10-year period.
In recent days, the Labor Opposition has ramped up its calls for the Government to extend the JobKeeper program to specific industries, like tourism and aviation, warning of the potential for widespread job losses.
On Wednesday, Tourism spokesman Don Farrell said: “The Morrison Government is asking cash-strapped families to spend their money on saving Australia’s tourism industry when it isn’t prepared to do the same thing itself.
“While an announcement might be on the horizon, support is long overdue and will be too late for many.”
The government warns the success of the domestic travel scheme could depend heavily on whether premiers will vow to keep their borders open, giving travellers confidence they can get to and from their destinations.
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan spoke with his state and territory colleagues on Tuesday, urging them to do what they can to avoid lockdowns or travel restrictions.
“We want to see that only as a last result,” Mr Tehan said.
“As the vaccine is increasingly rolled out we want people travelling, we want people spending.”
Notes: “Marginal” reflects seats within a swing of 6 per cent
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