Tourism operators in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region will be given a demand-driven lifeline now that JobKeeper support will finish at the end of this month, with the state government offering $200 vouchers to travellers in the region.
There will be 15,000 of the vouchers available to Queenslanders who spend on tourism experiences in the region over the next four months, and if the scheme proves successful the model could be rolled out elsewhere in the state.
Launched yesterday, people have three days until 11 March to enter the draw to secure one of the vouchers that can be used anytime between 15 March and 25 June.
As a tourism destination that has been historically highly dependent on international visitors, Cairns has been particularly hard hit economically be COVID-19.
"Our Cairns Holiday Dollars offer will be rushed as similar schemes in other states have been heavily oversubscribed," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, drawing on similar initiatives in NSW and VIC.
"The vouchers give people the chance to go on tours and experience some of the attractions in the Far North and we'll cover 50 per cent of the cost, up to $200.
"The vouchers can be used for trips to the Great Barrier Reef, guided tours around the region, bungy jumping, day spas, and entry to wildlife parks, zoos and aquariums."
The $3 million injection is the first time in Queensland that a government has offered vouchers to bolster and support the tourism industry, according to Palaszczuk.
"But these are extraordinary times and Tropical North Queensland tourism operators have done it very tough over the last 12 months," she said.
"It's expected the initiative could generate an extra visitor spend of up to $14 million for the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef economy.
"If the $3 million plus promotion, in partnership with Tourism Tropical North Queensland proves a success it could well be rolled-out for the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays and Brisbane."
Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said Cairns and Port Douglas were world-famous for their warm Far North Queensland hospitality.
"The Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef region has always been a popular gateway destination for international visitors," Mr Hinchliffe said.
"Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 800,000 overseas visitors had landed in Cairns every year and contributed more than $1 billion to the region's economy.
"To have almost a third of your visitor economy wiped out by COVID's closure of the international border is a big hit in anybody's language."
He said the travel vouchers were the perfect excuse for Queenslanders to pack a bag this Easter and discover why the Far North has such an "impeccable international visitor reputation".
"By spoiling yourself with an unforgettable Cairns tropical holiday, you'll be supporting jobs and helping Queensland tourism rebuild better.
"Supporting Queenslanders is what Queenslanders do."
Member for Cairns Michael Healy said rebuilding the tourism industry was an important part of the government's economic recovery plan for Tropical North Queensland.
"This strategy will pump millions of dollars into local businesses which is exactly what we need right now," he said.
Incentivising tourists to travel to the Tropical North won't only deliver a great return for operators in the short-term, it will help us to grow our domestic visitor base long into the future."
Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen welcomed the Cairns Holiday Dollars as an incentive for visitors to add an additional experience to their Cairns and Great Barrier Reef holiday.
"Our region's diverse tourism experiences showcasing two World Heritage areas have helped turn the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region into an international destination," he said.
"This is an exciting opportunity for Queenslanders to discover that you can experience the Great Barrier Reef with an Indigenous sea ranger, see the world's oldest rainforest while floating on a raft or go jet boating alongside the city."
Eligible tourism experiences could include boat or bus tours, other on-land or marine tourism experiences, reef experiences, scenic flights, short day trips, multi-day tours, spa experiences, galleries and exhibitions.
Mass redundancies forecast nationwide
The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) has today warned tourism businesses are already planning mass redundancies across industry due to the lack of certainty with the impending end of JobKeeper.
ATIC Executive Director Simon Westaway said to avoid further redundancies tourism enterprises need immediate answers on whether direct federal support will be available.
"Tourism businesses only require short-term assistance until the national vaccine rollout brings back confidence in domestic travel," Westaway said.
"The federal tourism package must include direct financial assistance to at risk tourism businesses."
He said the tourism business in capital cities was most at risk due to the downturn in interstate travel.
"The tourism Industry is not looking for more grant programs or pork-barrelling in a few regions," he said.
"Direct financial assistance should go to all tourism businesses at risk including sole traders and small family businesses as well as major airlines.
"Industry surveys show significant tourism job losses and business closures will occur due to a lack of confidence in domestic travel."
Updated at 7:17am AEST on 8 March 2020.
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