Australians to be offered half-price flights to boost local tourism

Aerial shot of Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsunday Islands are among the travel destinations listed

Australians will be able to buy half-price flights to a dozen domestic holiday spots under a new scheme to boost tourism, the government has said.

The list of subsidised destinations includes the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays, Alice Springs and Broome. The government said the A$1.2bn (£670m; $930m) scheme aims to revive the local tourism sector amid the pandemic, that industry has been hardest hit by border closures and travel restrictions since early last year. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the package of 800,000 cheaper airfares – to be offered between April and July would encourage locals to visit other parts of the country.

The government’s “JobKeeper” wage subsidy scheme is to finish at the end of March, but the tourism sector – usually reliant on international visitors – still required support, Mr Morrison said. “To keep people in their jobs, we’ve got to put planes in the air, and we’ve got to put tourists on the ground,” he told reporters at Sydney Airport on Thursday. But the Labor opposition has argued the package is “selective” and mainly benefits airlines, pointing out there is no direct funding for tourism and hotel operators.

Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast
Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast is a popular holiday spot

Australia began its vaccine rollout scheme last month and has reported zero locally acquired cases in the past fortnight. For a year now, the nation has closed its borders to international arrivals barring returning nationals and some exempted cases. Since the pandemic began, Australia has reported about 29,000 cases and 909 deaths – numbers far lower than many other nations. Despite this success, many Australians have been reticent to make travel plans beyond their home state because of uncertainty over border closures. Small outbreaks have often led to restrictions on movement, leaving people stranded or with interstate holidays cancelled.

Airlines and travel representatives have largely welcomed the new subsidy scheme, however some have questioned the destinations chosen, given some are already big tourism drawcards. Labor has also noted the majority of them lie in seats with many swinging voters, Australia could see a general election called as early as this year. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese argued it was typical of the Australian government to focus on the “electoral map” rather than “which areas needs support most”. Others online criticised the government for funding local holidays while tens and thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas.

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