Local leaders react to $1.2 billion tourism support package


Karlie Brady


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Thousands of tourists will be able to travel to the Far North on half-price airfares in the hope it will boost local tourism. Image: Port Douglas Travel Planner (tourismportdouglas.com.au).
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Industry and local leaders have welcomed a $1.2 billion tourism and aviation support package announced by the Federal Government today, however, some have questioned if it will be enough.

The package includes 800,000 half price airfares to tourism hotspots, cheap loans for businesses, and direct support to keep planes in the air as JobKeeper comes to an end this month.

Cairns is one of 13 destinations across the nation that will benefit from the half-priced airfares program, in the hopes of inciting thousands of extra tourists to the region, however the initiative relies heavily on borders staying open.

The half-price ticket program will see tourists from Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin receive subsidised flights to Cairns from 1 April 2021 until 31 July 2021.

Mark Olsen, CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ), said the tourism industry welcomed the significant subsidy of air seats coming into Cairns.

"Today’s a step in the right direction for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to close the gap left behind without international visitation," he said.

- ‘Ticket to recovery’: $1.2 billion support for tourism

"If our region can secure our share of this important initiative, we can drive another five to seven thousand additional visitors each week.

"And if they’re new visitors that’s a million dollars a day being injected into our community.

“The key today will be working with the Federal Government to ensure that the experience providers, who are COVID safe and world-class, can benefit from this initiative and that those seat sales can translate into bookings for experiences.”

TTNQ Chair Ken Chapman said while it is a great initiative that “will make a difference” he had been hoping for more.

“It is no secret that we were hoping for more, we were hoping for direct support for employment and wages,” he said.

“So that is very disappointing, but this is an opportunity for the people of Australia to do something about it. You have been given an offer of half-price air tickets.

“It’s time to get up to paradise and make the best of it and this time you’re doing it for your country,” he said.

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr said while the initiate will get people travelling, he had concerns.

“I still have reservations about whether it will solve the issue as far as tours go, which is one of the biggest problems,” he said.

“We are finding that we have a lot of people booking accommodation, but they are very much the sort of people who would usually be going to Bali or Thailand and they’re coming here sitting by the pool relaxing and drinking and not going on tours as such.

“This initiative, while it is great to get people here, I don’t know if it will get them on the boats and that is a concern for me.”

Premier says more is needed

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is calling for the major tourism route of Brisbane to Cairns to be added to the discounted airfares scheme.

“I welcome the new support for the aviation and tourism sectors just announced by the Prime Minister. It will assist in getting more Australians to Queensland's many tourism destinations,” she said.

“But much more direct support is still needed for our tourism operators impacted by JobKeeper ending on 28 March and international border closures. We will continue to lobby for this support.

“I’m also calling on the Federal Government to provide subsidised flights from Brisbane to Cairns to help further stimulate tourism demand in Tropical North Queensland.”

Borders key to confidence

Cairns Airport CEO Richard Barker welcomed the announcement but said borders must remain open to give visitors the confidence to travel.

"Anything that stimulates demand and gets people on planes, up to our beautiful region to support the local operators, is welcomed by us," he said.

"The other thing that we really welcome is the support given to the airlines to enable them to be ready to go when international borders reopen later this year.

"The key thing for us and for this region is that interstate borders remain open."

"We need these borders to stay open so that people from interstate can have confidence that they can book a holiday, get a great deal, have some world-class experiences, and get home comfortably."

Peter Woodward Managing Director of the CAPTA Group, which owns the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas, said an extension to the zoo and aquarium program was welcome as it has been critical in feeding the animals.

“We were hoping for further support for staff and the costs involved in looking after the wildlife,” he said.

“We are so far away from the big markets of Sydney and Melbourne so hopefully that aviation support helps increase the domestic market.

“It still won’t make up for the loss of international markets, so we still need further support up here,” he said.

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