Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today confirmed details of the $1.2 billion package aimed at getting more Australians to undertake domestic travel, but has been immediately criticised for focusing the airline subsidies on travel to areas that are largely marginal Federal electorates.
Announced this morning, the assistance package includes subsidies for domestic air travel and money for Qantas and Virgin to stay ready for when borders reopen.
In practice it will see the Federal Government pay 50% of the cost of 800,000 domestic flights to 13 destinations between 1st April and 31st July while international borders remain closed.
The destinations are the Gold Coast; Cairns; the Whitsundays region; the Sunshine Coast; the Lasseter region of the Northern Territory which includes Uluru and Alice Springs; Launceston, Devonport and Burnie in Tasmania; Broome in Western Australia; Avalon, Victoria; Merimbula in southern NSW and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
The package, to be introduced when the JobKeeper subsidy ends later this month will also include loans of up to $5 million to tourism businesses with two-year repayment holidays.
However, of the 13 locations that will be eligible for discounted flights, eight were immediately identified as being in marginal Federal electorates.
Of the remaining five
While Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has predictably criticised the package for focusing on marginal Federal seats rather than the regions most in need of tourism support, Tourism Council WA (TCWA) Chief Executive, Evan Hall says the package is a "devastating blow" to the state's tourism industry.
With Broome the only location named as a discounted tourist destination in Western Australia, Hall stated "this is a devastating blow for Western Australian tourism.
"Not only are we going to see an end of support for those tourism businesses on JobKeeper that need support to keep going, but we are going to see subsidised flights into the east coast that are going to draw visitors away from Western Australia and into east coast destinations.
"Overwhelmingly, these discounted flights are going to regional, marginal seats.
"They have treated the economic impact on the tourism industry as a political problem.
"We think it is an absolutely appalling way to treat the tourism industry that has been devastated by international and interstate border closures.
"We need those interstate visitors for our businesses to recover.
"But a lot of people in Sydney or Melbourne now, instead of choosing Perth and Margaret River or Kununurra, are going to choose Surfers Paradise, or Cairns, or Launceston."
However, in reference to regional NSW, Prime Minister Morrison said those areas had not been included in the package because tourism in the state has largely recovered.
Another anomaly is that Queenslanders will not be supported to travel within their own state.
While people from outside Queensland will be able to get the cheap flights to the Whitsundays, Cairns, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, people flying from Brisbane airport have to travel out of state.
Commenting that it will take some time for benefits to trickle through to tourism operators, Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) Chief Executive, Daniel Gschwind stated "it remains to be seen how that will come through to them, how the benefits will flow through to them they're in urgent need of this and we're a little bit concerned that it may take a bit too long for them.
"Our main concern always has been to support the business who need to keep their jobs in place for their staff and that's not entirely clear how it will work and how quickly it will work."
For further information on the COVID 19 tourism support plan visit www.austrade.gov.au/Australian/Tourism/Tourism-and-business
For further information on the Small and Medium Enterprise Recovery Loan Scheme visit www.treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/sme-guarantee-scheme
Images: Broome, the only location named as a discounted tourist destination in Western Australia (top) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (below).
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