Australia unveils $ 928 million COVID-19 stimulus package for tourism industry

CANBERRA (Reuters) – The Australian government on Thursday unveiled an A $ 1.2 billion ($ 928 million) tourism support package, aimed at boosting local travel while international routes remain closed due to the pandemic coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A near empty domestic terminal at Sydney Airport is seen after neighboring states closed their borders to New South Wales in response to an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The basket of airline ticket subsidies for travelers, cheap loans to small tour operators and financial assistance to the country’s two largest airlines is designed to keep the critical sector running until foreign tourists return. .

“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

“This means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors as Australia prepares to win its fight against COVID-19 and the restrictions that have hurt so many businesses. “

Tourism is a major growth engine for the Australian economy, generating A $ 60.8 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018/19 and employing around 5% of the country’s workforce.

The sector was hit hard when Australia closed its international borders – with a few exceptions for returning nationals and a few others – a year ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A series of internal state and territory border closures triggered by COVID-19 outbreaks have exacerbated the slowdown.

The country’s two major airlines, Qantas Airways Ltd and Virgin Australia, have cut flights and put planes into hibernation while thousands of people in the industry depended on a federal government wage subsidy program, which expires this this month.

The support package includes A $ 200 million for Qantas Airways Ltd and Virgin Australia from April to October to help keep planes on hold, get planes out of storage and salaries for international flight personnel.

“This program allows these people to stay in touch with Qantas so that they don’t get lost … because when the borders open up, we need the ability to start as many flights as possible,” Joyce said. , Managing Director of Qantas.

Qantas hopes to resume some international flights by the end of October, when Australia plans to complete its national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Morrison said it was “too early” to confirm the scheduled date for the international border to reopen.

The 50% subsidy on some 800,000 plane tickets will be focused on destinations that generally rely heavily on foreign tourists, including Alice Springs and Kangaroo Island, and will be available from April 1 to the end of July.

Shares in travel-related stocks led to gains in the Australian market, with travel agents Flight Center Ltd up more than 10% and Webjet Ltd up more than 3% to trade near intraday highs of ‘a year. Qantas was up 2% by early afternoon.

However, not all industry groups were happy with the support package, which also includes cheap 10-year loans for small tourism businesses, many of which are struggling with growing debt.

“This narrowly targeted package is robbing many hard-working operators of the tourism industry whose fates are being ignored,” said John Hart, executive chairman of the tourism division of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The package also fails to recognize that until the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry was poised to experience tremendous growth.”

(1 USD = 1.2933 Australian dollar)

Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra and Jamie Freed and Renju Jose in Sydney; edited by Jane Wardell

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Juana Renfrow

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