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Australian travellers will have access to hundreds of thousands of half-price airfares to more than a dozen tourism-reliant regions, subsidised by the government as part of the package announced tonight.
Other headline measures include bigger loans to JobKeeper-reliant small businesses — including a two-year repayment holiday — and direct assistance to help Qantas and Virgin keep workers employed and planes ready to fly overseas again.
The measures, revealed on Wednesday night, will see taxpayers subsidising flights to and from destinations such as the Gold Coast, Cairns, Alice Springs and Launceston as closed international borders and intermittent state border closures keep tourists away.
FULL LIST OF ROUTES BELOW
The government stresses demand will drive the number of tickets but expects to subsidise about 46,000 airfares a week, to a total of 800,000.
On top of the obvious benefits to airlines, tourism operators and travel agents, the plan is designed to support accommodation and hospitality businesses in the hardest-hit regions when the JobKeeper subsidy runs out on March 28.
The government now says bout 650,000 employers and 2.7 million employees have graduated from the JobKeeper program since September last year, up from about 520,000 and 2.13 million at the last update.
But of all JobKeeper recipients not working or working only a few hours a week, about 20% are employed in cafes, restaurants, travel agencies, tour operators or airlines, according to government figures.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while the economy had recovered 85% of its pandemic slump, the package was designed to help the worst-affected to bridge the gap back to normal.
“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,” he said, in a statement.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard.”
Tourism and aviation support at a glance
- To run from April 1 to July 31
- 50% discount on domestic fares – travel to and from the locations will be subsidised
- Routes are based on being reliant on tourism for Gross Domestic Product and particularly dependent on aviation for tourism from April to July
- Demand drives the number of tickets and locations the flights will depart from, but estimated average of 46,000 discounted fares per week
- Tickets available from airline websites from April 1
- Any air operator who has operated the routes in the previous two years will be eligible, but mostly Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and some others
The package comes with a plea to keep borders open
The changes to small business loans tighten the SME Loan Guarantee Scheme to apply to only businesses receiving JobKeeper in the March quarter but given an increase to the maximum size of a loan from AUD1 million to AUD5 million.
The turnover cut-off for eligible businesses also increases, from AUD50 million up to AUD250 million, and the government has pledged to guarantee 80% of each loan, up from the current 50/50 split with banks.
The government says the direct airline assistance will last from April 1 until October 31, when international flights are expected to resume.
It’s designed to keep 8600 international airline workers in jobs and planes ready to take to the skies again, in exchange for an assurance from Qantas and Virgin that they will maintain a set level of international flight readiness.
Some tourism industry figures had been calling for a JobKeeper-style package targeted specifically at the industry, as health experts warned not to expect a return to widespread international travel until the end of 2021 or even later.
The Tourism & Transport Forum had called for a AUD7.7 billion package stretching to the end of the year, to get the industry back to 75% of 2019 levels.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, whose state is home to several of the nation’s most tourism-reliant regions, had also called for a JobKeeper extension.
She warned Cairns in particular, one of several Queensland regions targeted in the new package, had 10,000 businesses on JobKeeper “concerned they are going to fall off a cliff” at the end of March.
Announcing the new package, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan took the opportunity to reiterate government calls for states to find more consistency on border closures.
“Our government’s support package will help get more Australians into those tourist areas most impacted by border lockdowns,” he said.
“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.”
Discounted flight routes
The government warns these may change depending on airline negotiations and demand:
Gold Coast (Queensland)
- Adelaide – Gold Coast
- Melbourne – Gold Coast
- Sydney – Gold Coast
- Canberra – Gold Coast
- Avalon – Gold Coast
Tropical North Queensland (Queensland)
- Melbourne – Cairns
- Sydney – Cairns
- Darwin – Cairns
Whitsundays and Mackay region (Queensland)
- Sydney – Proserpine
- Sydney – Hamilton Island
- Sydney – Sunshine Coast (Queensland)
- Sydney – Maroochydore
- Melbourne – Maroochydore
- Adelaide – Maroochydore
Lasseter and Alice Springs (Northern Territory)
- Adelaide – Alice Springs
- Sydney – Uluru
- Brisbane – Alice Springs
- Melbourne – Alice Springs
- Perth – Alice Springs
- Sydney – Alice Springs
- Brisbane – Uluru
- Melbourne – Uluru
Launceston, Devonport and Burnie (Tasmania)
- Melbourne – Launceston
- Sydney – Launceston
- Brisbane – Launceston
- Melbourne – Devonport
- Melbourne – Burnie
Broome (Western Australia)
- Darwin – Broome
- Sydney – Broome
- Melbourne – Broome
- Gold Coast – Avalon
- Sydney – Avalon
Merimbula (New South Wales)
- Melbourne – Merimbula
Kangaroo Island (South Australia)
- Adelaide – Kingscote
All of this sounds very generous and has been rightly welcomed with open arms by Qantas and Virgin Australia and the wider aviation industry.
“To be in the position where we can safely encourage and promote domestic travel puts us at the envy of the rest of the world,” said Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka in a statement.
Meanwhile, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “This support is fantastic news for aviation and for the thousands of businesses, big and small, that rely on the tourism industry.”
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