Australian cheap flights deal leaves WA out in the cold

Western Australia’s Tourism Council has slammed the Federal Government’s plan to slash selected domestic airfares as a “devastating blow” to the WA tourism industry.

Key points:

  • Evan Hall says tourists will be drawn away from WA and jobs lost
  • Broome is the only discounted tourist destination in the state
  • Mark McGowan says WA’s hard border policy will remain

The tourism package will see a 50 per cent discount on tickets offered between April and July, for flights to and from 13 regions.

The destinations include the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays region, the Sunshine Coast, the Lasseter region which includes Uluru, Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Avalon, Merimbula, and Kangaroo Island.

The discounted airfares only apply one WA destination, Broome, compared with five in Queensland and three in Tasmania.

“This is a devastating blow for Western Australian tourism,” Mr Hall said.

“Not only are we going to see an end of support for those tourism businesses on JobKeeper that need support to keep going, but we are going to see subsidised flights into the east coast that are going to draw visitors away from Western Australia and into east coast destinations.

“Overwhelmingly, these discounted flights are going to regional, marginal seats.

“They have treated the economic impact on the tourism industry as a political problem.

Actor Margot Robbie's selfie with a quokka at Rottnest.
Evan Hall says the flights will do nothing to encourage people to visit most WA tourism destinations. (Instagram: Margot Robbie )

“We think it is an absolutely appalling way to treat the tourism industry that has been devastated by international and interstate border closures.

“We need those interstate visitors for our businesses to recover.

“But a lot of people in Sydney or Melbourne now, instead of choosing Perth and Margaret River or Kununurra, are going to choose Surfers Paradise, or Cairns, or Launceston.”

Broome tourism operators happy

Broome camel tour operator John Geappen was excited about the Federal Government’s plan, and said it was a great initiative.

“I think it will be an enormous incentive for people,” he said.

Red Sun Camels owner John Geappen on the beach with a four wheel drive behind.
John Geappen says the discounted flights will be an “enormous incentive” for people to visit Broome. (ABC News: Andrew Seabourne )

“I think [business] will just go through the roof with this idea. I think the tickets will get taken up pretty quickly. It will go mad.

“Traditionally the air travel cost has always been the hurdle for most people — how expensive it is to get to and from Broome.

“With this sort of incentive, I don’t think people can complain anymore.”

Jobs at risk: Hall

But Mr Hall said for the rest of the state, particularly tourism businesses in Perth, the announcement would cost jobs.

“A lot of businesses have been holding out to see whether or not there would be some sort of replacement assistance at the end of JobKeeper.

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“Not only is there not going to be any replacement assistance, a lot of the interstate visitors they are hoping to get to be able to recover are now going to head off to Queensland or Tasmania in Western Australia.

“Unfortunately, I think that is just going to accelerate employees being given their notice.

“We will definitely see job shedding and business closures as a result of this decision.”

Canberra out of touch: Papalia

WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the Federal Government announcement was disappointing and would not help the parts of WA’s tourism sector most struggling.

“This announcement today confirms Canberra just does not know anything about Western Australia,” he said.

“Western Australian businesses most hurt by international travel loss are the inner city CBD hotels and the east Kimberley, and neither of them get any benefit from this announcement.

CBD staycation advertisement featuring people in a rooftop hotel pool against the Perth skyline.
Mr Papalia says hotels in the Perth CBD were especially in need of a tourism boost, but had been ignored by the Federal Government. (Supplied: WA Government )

“They are wasting taxpayers’ money in terms of trying to help WA with this package.

“They are trying to send people to Broome in the peak season when there is already very little accommodation available and we actually don’t need the focus on that market.

“The federal government obviously has not bothered to learn about the market.”

Border debate continues

Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan told radio station 6PR the best thing the WA government could do for tourism was to start using border closures as a last resort.

“It is the biggest obstacle to confidence,” Mr Tehan said.

“It is state border closures more than the pandemic which is now stopping people from travelling.

“One of the things we are really looking for is a firm message from state and territory leaders that border closures will now be used as a last resort.

“If we can get the message through so that people can get travelling again, that is the best way we can support the jobs in our tourism industry.”

A head and shoulder shot of Mark McGowan speaking to the media.
Mark McGowan has continued to defend WA’s border policy. (ABC News: Keane Bourke )

But WA Premier Mark McGowan has continued to defend his strict border policy ahead of Saturday’s state election.

On Tuesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said state border closures had been an “embarrassment” and were no longer necessary.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said this week state premiers would need to better justify future border closures as the health threat eased.

But Mr McGowan said he was not considering changes to the state’s border controls.

“I don’t understand why there is always this sort of argument, particularly from the Liberal party, to undermine what works,” he said on Wednesday.

“Why do they want to tear it down? It has worked so well.”

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