Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has blasted the federal government’s $1.2 billion travel boost, saying it offers nothing for hotel and tourism operators.
“This isn’t a tourism package. It is a selective aviation package,” Mr Albanese said.
The Morrison government is offering 800,000 discounted airline tickets as well as loans for struggling tourism operators, designed to ease the pain when JobKeeper wage subsidies end on March 28.
The major airlines have lauded the half-price return flights to more than a dozen regional tourism destinations.
An estimated 800,000 government-subsidised tickets will be offered over the scheme’s duration, which includes the Easter and winter school holidays.
Return flights to eligible locations will be discounted by half from April 1-July 31. Qantas said it expected to discount up to 32,000 seats a week under the scheme.
Qantas, Virgin and a handful of smaller regional carriers will be the main beneficiaries, with airlines that have operated on the routes for the past two years eligible.
But eligible flights must go from particular destinations, such as Adelaide to the Gold Coast or Sydney to Alice Springs.
Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said Queenslanders would not be supported to travel within their own state. Instead, people flying from Brisbane airport will be offered a discount on flights to Launceston, Alice Springs and Uluru.
Mr Dick questioned why the discounted flights would not apply to south-east Queenslanders wanting to travel locally.
“Seriously, there are some dead-set head scratchers in this that seem bizarre,” he said.
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia blasted the plan as “pathetic”.
“It doesn’t focus on Western Australian business that are hurting as a result of international flights,” he told 6PR radio.
“If Mr Tehan and the prime minister want to help Western Australia they should talk to people who know about Western Australia. They are obviously not doing that.”
There are also concerns the $1.2 billion package will do little for the wider tourism industry. Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner described it as “meagre at best”.
“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,” he told the Nine Network on Thursday.
Australian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Simon Westaway welcomed the “meritorious effort” but said a lack of immediate financial assistance, such as direct cash grants, would result in many avoidable job losses.
“We just think it should have been complemented with some effective short-term targeting of tourism enterprises, to give them the confidence to keep existing staff and operations in place and await the rollout of the vaccine,” he said.
Mr Albanese said the rug was about to be pulled from under tourism operators, who had been relying on JobKeeper.
“I think it is very disappointing that for tourism operators around the country there is not a single extra dollar in today’s announcement,” he said.
He accused the government of basing its decisions on an electoral map – with many of the cities eligible for the half-price tickets in Coalition seats.
“With everything this government does, it is political management first and then substance second,” Mr Albanese said.
Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino also weighed in, saying the package was “not fair”.
“You only have to look at the numbers [of cities] – five in Queensland, three in Tassie, two in the Northern Territory but just one in Victoria.
“Whilst we welcome Avalon Airport and vouchers for flights to Avalon, you know, that’s great for people wanting to visit the Great Ocean Road and the Bellarine Peninsula but nothing in Melbourne for people wanting to visit Gippsland, the Goldfields, the Yarra Valley, the Mornington Peninsula, nothing in Albury for people wanting to holiday in the Murray or the High Country.”
The Victoria Tourism Industry Council said the “halfway” package disadvantaged destinations that missed out, particularly Melbourne.
“This will cannibalise our tourism opportunities here in Victoria,” VTIC chief executive Felicia Mariani said.
“This package also fails to address the key issue of consumer confidence. People are reluctant to travel and risk being at the other side of a snap border closure.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed the criticism, saying the discounted airfares will help Australians support tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines.
“This is our ticket to recovery,” he said on Thursday.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard.”
Mr Morrison said the measures create jobs and investment as the nation heads towards winning the fight against coronavirus.
“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever. They want their tourists back,” he said.
The package also includes support to keep 8600 international aviation workers employed between April and the end of October, the earliest chance for flights overseas to resume.
In return, airlines will need to assure the government every month planes will be ready to take off when needed.