The federal government’s recently-announced support package for Australia’s tourism industry has drawn further criticism from senior figures.
Joel Katz, managing director for Australasia at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said that while the new stimulus measures are a step forward, there needs to be a broader focus on the tourism economy, including tangible progress on the restart of cruising to act as an impetus for hard-hit businesses that rely on the sector.
“While the government’s package may assist some of the thousands of Australian cruise specialist travel agents impacted by travel restrictions after the end of JobKeeper, it provides only limited relief while little progress is made towards the resumption of cruising,” he said.
Katz stressed that the cruise industry was not seeking financial assistance from the government. Rather, it wants the opportunity to resume business safely and for the benefit of the wider tourism economy.
CLIA’s regional boss said the government’s tourism support initiatives would not benefit many other businesses that rely on cruising, including Aussie farmers, food producers, winemakers, transport companies, port workers and other service providers who supply the cruise industry.
“The cruise industry supports more than 18,000 jobs across Australia, all of which are at risk while the cruise suspension continues,” Katz said.
“Around $5 billion has already been lost to the Australian economy over the past year since the cruise industry stopped operating and the losses continue to mount.
“The cruise industry has committed to extensive new health protocols in response to COVID-19 and has outlined detailed plans that would allow a carefully controlled resumption of domestic cruises for Australian locals.
“It is vital that governments now finalise these plans so that travel agents and other cruise suppliers can have greater certainty to work towards a longer-term revival.”
Margy Osmond, CEO of Australia’s Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF), said the government support package was “a good start”, but does not go far enough to save wider tourism jobs.
Osmond said at first blush, the $1.2 billion in support was direct and consumer-focused, and would help to restore travel confidence in the wake of fluctuating state border closures.
However, she noted that elements of the package, like no wider support beyond more loans and debt, was not what the industry needed.
“This airline package is a good start, but it will not be enough and TTF will now work through the detail with all its members, the wider sector and the government in the coming day,” Osmond said.
“The Australian government have long heard TTF’s views on the need for targeted and direct support for a large portion of the industry to help keep tourism standing while international borders remain closed.
“It is a real positive that the federal government has recognised that our sector needs specific support, but there is more work to do.
“From accommodation providers and tourism operators through to transport companies, attraction operators, business event organisers and cultural organisations, many businesses are at the wall.”
Osmond said the simple and most effective financial lever to help large elements of tourism industry survive until the resumption of full international travel was a dedicated and targeted wage subsidy scheme for tourism.
“As JobKeeper ends, the consistent view of our industry has been that a simply administered wage subsidy scheme targeted to our sector, alongside dedicated cash boosts, would always be more effective at keeping operators going, rather than more loans, more debt and more deferrals,” she said.
Russ Masterton, owner of Destination International Holidays in Victoria, told Travel Weekly Morrison government’s extensive support for the aviation sector was “a shock to the rest of the tourism industry”.
“How does telling the travelling public book directly on an airline web site for the eight million half-price airfares encourage people to book hotels, car hire, transfers or day tours?” he said.
“What AFTA should have done was explain to the government that what is needed is a government rebate scheme of, say, $200 per household if you book a domestic holiday with an Australian travel agent.
“Travel agents book cars, hotel, day tours, transfers as well as airfares. Travel agents will drive the bookings to all sectors of the tourism industry.
“Morrison’s system doesn’t seem well-thought-out. It’s not inclusive enough.”
It’s not the first wave of criticism that the government has copped since announcing the $1.2 billion package, with the Accommodation Association, the Australian Hotels Association and Tourism Accommodation Australia all venting their frustration over the lack of support for hotels in capital cities.
Furthermore, the Australian Tourism Industry Council expressed disappointment that direct, targeted and short-term assistance for tourism enterprises had no part in the multi-pronged package.