SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian government unveiled a A$1.2 billion ($928 million) tourism support package on Thursday, aimed at boosting local travel while international routes remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The government will subsidise 800,000 tickets on domestic flights to 13 destinations around the country that mostly rely on international tourists, and offer cheap loans to small tourism operators.
“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever, they want their tourists back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. “This package, combined with our vaccine roll-out … is the bridge that will help get them back to normal trading.”
The package includes A$200 million of support for Qantas Airways Ltd and Virgin Australia from April to October to help with wages for international flying staff, keeping skills current, maintaining mothballed aircraft and bringing planes out of storage.
“This program allows those people to stay connected with Qantas so we don’t lose them … because when the borders open up, we need the capability to start as many flights as possible,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said.
Qantas hopes to resume some international flights by the end of October, when Australia expects to complete its national COVID-19 immunisation drive.
Morrison has been cautious about reopening the international border, which has been shut since last March to almost everyone but citizens and permanent residents who have to go through a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival at their expense.
“It’s still a bit too early to say … so we’re going to take this one step at a time,” Morrison told Seven Network News.
Shares of travel-related stocks led early gains on the Australian sharemarket, with travel agents Flight Centre Ltd and Webjet Ltd both up more than 6% to trade near one-year intraday highs. Qantas was up 3%.
($1 = 1.2933 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)