The Australian government will subsidise half-price flights to 13 holiday destinations across Australia including Gold Coast, Cairns, Alice Springs and Launceston from April until July 2021. It’s part of a $1.2 billion Tourism and Aviation Recovery Package announced today.
The 50% discount on domestic flights will be available on up to 800,000 tickets to and from airports in the 13 regions targeted by the government as requiring extra assistance to attract tourists. The discounted flights will be available to book directly on airlines’ websites from 1 April 2021, with Qantas and Jetstar saying that the discounted tickets will cover travel dates from 1 May 2021.
Qantas and Jetstar expect to offer a combined 550,000 half-price tickets, with Virgin Australia and regional airlines including Rex and Alliance Airlines to be allocated the remainder.
The government is hoping the cut-price airfares will drive demand to tourism destinations affected by recent border closures and a reduction in international visitors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased demand may even encourage airlines to add extra flights.
Airlines will be eligible for the subsidies on routes they’ve already flown for at least the past two years. So, they won’t just be able to add new flights from 1 April in order to benefit from the generous government subsidy on offer.
“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, they want their tourists back,” Morrison said.
Which destinations will receive half-price flights?
The discounted flights will be available to and from the following destinations:
- Gold Coast, QLD
- Cairns, QLD
- Whitsundays & Mackay region, QLD (including Proserpine, Hamilton Island & Mackay)
- Sunshine Coast, QLD
- Uluru, NT (Lasseter region)
- Alice Springs, NT
- Launceston, TAS
- Devonport, TAS
- Burnie, TAS
- Broome, WA
- Avalon, VIC (Geelong)
- Merimbula, NSW
- Kangaroo Island, SA
Further details of the subsidised flights are yet to be released, but it appears the cut-price tickets may only be available at off-peak times.
Federal government urges restraint on border closures
While the half-price flights are welcome and will certainly encourage more Australians to take a domestic holiday, many Australians have been reluctant to travel interstate in recent months due to the risk of snap border closures.
Over the past year, state borders have opened and closed like a yo-yo. People from entire states have been barred from entering other states – often with little or no notice – over a single COVID-19 case. Some people have even been forced into retrospective quarantine after arriving from a state later declared a COVID-19 hotspot. This risk has arguably been a bigger factor affecting people’s willingness to travel than airfare prices.
Acknowledging this, the Prime Minister this week called on state premiers to keep borders open in 2021 now that vaccines are being rolled out.
“The 2020 response to COVID-19 must be different in 2021. Why? Because the risk has changed,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s important that all premiers, chief ministers, prime ministers make decisions that are very commensurate with the new risk framework that we are facing this year, which is different to last year.”
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan also urged his state and territory colleagues this week to avoid imposing new travel restrictions and lockdowns, resorting to that “only as a last resort”.
Other Tourism and Aviation Recovery Package measures
The package to be announced today will also include a range of other support measures, including some new initiatives and extensions of old ones, to be introduced after the JobKeeper wage subsidy ends this month.
The government will pay to keep around 8,600 international Qantas & Virgin flight crew and aircraft engineers employed until 31 October 2021. The government has indicated that it currently expects international flights to resume from November 2021, which also happens to be when Qantas is currently planning to restart international flights – although this will be heavily dependant on the timeline and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Other parts of this package include:
- Extended support for critical domestic & regional routes until September 2021
- Waiving of some airport charges, such as security and Air Serivces Australia fees
- Loans of up to $5 million for small-to-medium businesses still relying on JobKeeper, with no repayments for 24 months and up to 10 years to repay
Tourism industry reaction
The industry assistance has been welcomed by airlines including Qantas.
“This support is fantastic news for aviation and for the thousands of businesses, big and small, that rely on the tourism industry,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
But Simon Westaway from the Australian Tourism Industry Council believes it’s not enough to prevent significant job losses and the closure of many smaller tourism businesses.
“From small accommodation providers to tour operators, adventure tourism and cruises, businesses hit by border restrictions and low travel confidence get little from this package,” Mr Westaway said.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that the discounted flight scheme will not benefit businesses in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne which have also been hit hard by domestic lockdowns and the international border closure.
Many travel agencies are also wondering how they’ll survive once JobKeeper ends on 31 March. 94% of travel agencies registered with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) are dealing with a decline in revenue of at least 90%, and 43% of travel agents say they’re unlikely to return to profitability until 2023.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Government to halve flight prices in $1.2bn tourism plan