Tickets to over a dozen domestic holiday destinations will be slashed to half-price under a Federal Government subsidy designed to keep airlines flying and their staff employed, while at the same time assisting the struggling tourism industry and encouraging more Australians to 'holiday at home' this year.
An estimated 800,000 cut-price fares will be unlocked under the new Tourism Aviation Network Support scheme from April 1 to July 31, with Qantas and Virgin Australia the main recipients of this leisure travel largesse.
But capital cities are off the list, which instead favours a list of heavily tourism-dependent regions drawn up by the government with advice from the travel and tourism industry.
Nominated holiday hotspots include Merimbula, on the NSW south coast; regional Victoria; the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Mackay region (Proserpine and Hamilton Island), the Whitsundays and the Sunshine Coast; Kangaroo Island; Alice Springs and Uluru: Broome; and Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.
Airlines will be able to use the subsidy to slash the price of offering off-peak flights to those centres, but must have flown the route over the previous two years in order to qualify for the handout.
"Ticket to recovery"
The government says it is open to adding other holiday destinations within the overall cap of 800,000 tickets.
"This is our ticket to recovery – 800,000 half-price airfares to get Australians travelling and supporting tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines who continue to do it tough through COVID-19, while our international borders remain closed," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard. That means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors as Australia heads towards winning our fight against COVID-19 and the restrictions that have hurt so many businesses."
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce welcomed the move as "fantastic news for aviation and for the thousands of businesses, big and small, that rely on the tourism industry" and flagged that the special sale fares would be available from Qantas and Jetstar from 1 April for travel from 1 May 2021.
For her part, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said the package would allow the rebooted airline to "accelerate our domestic expansion and also begin getting our international operations ready to open."
Ready for international flying
The $1.2bn stimulus package will also see Qantas and Virgin Australia receive monthly 'retention payments' through to the end of September to maintain aircraft and retain thousands of pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, especially those attached to international flying, who'll be needed for when overseas travel returns towards the end of this year.
“We have around 7,500 people in our international business who have already been out of work for a year and will unfortunately stay grounded until at least the end of October," Joyce said.
"The targeted support from the Federal Government is about helping people stay connected to aviation despite the extended of period of time they still face on the ground. It helps preserve the skills and experience we’re going to need when long haul flying restarts."
However, Joyce was also quick to call out that the government's money "will go directly to employees to help them meet their cost of living while they wait for international flying to return. It's not a subsidy for Qantas."