COVID-19 ADVOCACY UPDATE | Tourism Industry Support Packages

Today the Federal Government announced a $1.2 billion tourism and aviation support package to drive the economic recovery in pandemic-hit industries and regions. The scheme encourages Australian travellers to access up to 800,000 half-price airfares (subsidised by the Federal Government) to fly interstate to 13 regions identified by the government.

Cairns, Whitsundays, Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast, and Gold Coast are all Queensland destinations included in the scheme. Unfortunately, Townsville North Queensland is not one of the 13. Following this announcement today the Federal Member for Herbert Phillip Thompson has written to the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack expressing his "...disappointment that Townsville has not been included in the initial list of regional destinations that will benefit from the flight subsidies..." and requests the DPM to "consider including Townsville on this list as a matter of priority". You can read the full letter HERE. We have also held discussions with Senator Susan McDonald's office today on this issue and we acknowledge both local representatives for their  strong advocacy for Townsville's inclusion.

This follows the Queensland Government on Monday announcing a scheme designed specifically to support the Tropical North Queensland region through a $3M initiative which is providing 15,000 free $200 travel vouchers to spend in Cairns enticing visitation to the region. We will continue discussions around extending these tourism support measures with all levels of government, as both our State and Federal representatives have an important role to play in this sector's recovery.

In some positive news however, on Tuesday the Queensland Government additionally launched The Great Barrier Reef Education Experience Program aimed at supporting Great Barrier Reef operators and regions by providing up to $150 for eligible students to go towards travel, accommodation and experience expenses on a school reef excursion. The program will be available for all primary and secondary schools in Queensland to undertake school excursions along the length of the Great Barrier Reef from Cooktown to Bundaberg.

We acknowledge that when Cairns and the Whitsundays are doing well North Queensland is doing well, but schemes that omit our region are disappointing for our tourism operators who, like thousands across the nation, have faced an exceptionally challenging 12 months.

We understand the criteria for the Federal Government subsidy was determined based on international dependence. Whilst Townsville does have a traditionally smaller international dependence that should not understate our tourism impact locally. Our region's tourism industry supports 8000 jobs, contributes $1.2B to the economy, the interstate market alone contributes to 20% of our inbound visitation to our airport, and generates over 1 million room nights - all of which our local tourism industry has been unable to access fully for 12 months.

Visitors could be potentially diverted from visiting our region to other areas of the country now, which is disappointing considering how hard we as a region have worked to rebuild our interstate visitation. This market has long been a strength of ours and now we will have to work even harder to sell our destination, but we have never shied away from a challenge. We know we have an incredible product and an affordable offering which we will use to entice those markets back into Townsville North Queensland.

We do wish to acknowledge that today's announcement is great news for the aviation industry, and the thousands of jobs reliant on that sector, which is critical to the success of tourism ongoing. But we need to ensure there is ongoing support for those smaller, family businesses and operators on the ground who have spent decades driving their strategy around international visitation, on top of the fact that we have just launched an internationally recognised tourism product with the Museum of Underwater Art.

It's also worth remembering that even though we don't have the largest international visitation, we have an exceptionally strong business and corporate market, equating to one third of our visitation, which has been all but gone over the past 12 months. Until that rebounds we still have an accommodation industry and business events sector still struggling, which is why its important to remember its not just the internationals that have been impacted from COVID-19.

JobKeeper has been a lifeline to businesses and the Federal Government must be acknowledged in their support to keep these businesses afloat over the past 12 months. However there are many internationally reliant operators here that are struggling and are still relying on JobKeeper and when that ends at the end of the month, and if we don't see interstate visitation start to rebound or an extension of JobKeeper, these businesses will be at risk of closing their doors for good.

But it's not just up to one level of government, everyone has a role to play and we will continue to be a loud voice for Townsville North Queensland businesses.

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