Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed criticism of his $1.2 billion tourism industry stimulus package.
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.
But there are concerns the $1.2 billion package will do little for the tourism industry.
“It is a very small, very meagre package at best,” Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner told Nine on Thursday.
“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.”
Tourism industry groups have also complained about the size of the package.
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.
Mr Westaway told The New Daily that although the subsidised airfares would attract plenty of interest, there was no guarantee the package would boost spending at local tourism activities.
“There will clearly be some benefit with that amount of investment, but 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.
Margy Osmond from the Tourism and Transport Forum said cheap flights were a good start, but nowhere near enough to save wider tourism jobs.
She wanted a simply administered wage subsidy scheme targeted at the sector, alongside dedicated cash boosts to stave off mass job losses.
“From accommodation providers and tourism operators through to transport companies, attraction operators, business event organisers and cultural organisations, many businesses are at the wall,” Ms Osmond said.
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 receive a 50 per cent discount between April 1-July 31. Qantas said it expected to discount up to 32,000 seats a week under the scheme.
Initially, the government has listed Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region including Proserpine and Hamilton Island and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Lasseter and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, the Tasmanian towns of Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome in Western Australia, Avalon near Melbourne, Merimbula in NSW and South Australia’s Kangaroo Island are also included.
Mr Morrison said the airfares would help Australians support tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines doing it tough during the pandemic.
“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.”
Qantas, Virgin and a handful of smaller regional carriers will be the main beneficiaries. Airlines that have operated on the routes for the past two years eligible.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce welcomed the “targeted support”.
“This package is a lifeline for the broader travel and tourism sector in Australia, just as it’s trying to get back on its feet,” he said.
“Ultimately, it’s an investment in an industry that has always been a huge driver of economic activity and will be again.”
Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said it was “good news for all Australians”.
“The economic impact this will have cannot be underestimated. This is a once-in-a-generation event that is going to give the entire tourism industry supply chain a significant boost, which it desperately needs,” Ms Hrdlicka said.
Business loans of up to 10 years with a two-year principal and interest repayment holiday will be available between April and the end of 2021 for small and medium companies that come off JobKeeper this year.
The maximum loan will be increased from $1 million to $5 million and businesses with a turnover of $250 million will be eligible.
Mr Morrison said the measures would mean more 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.
Airport security charges and other domestic flight operations charges will continue to be waived, while support will be extended for air freight exports.
The government will continue payments to zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks for six months and business events for three months.