Queensland to hand out 15,000 travel vouchers to help rescue far north's Covid-hit tourism industry

The vouchers, worth $200 each, will be available to Queensland residents and allocated by ballot

The Queensland government will hand out 15,000 travel vouchers worth up to $200 each in an attempt to stimulate domestic tourism and drive the state’s Covid-19 recovery.

Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced the voucher scheme on Sunday, as the state again recorded no new locally acquired Covid-19 cases.

The vouchers will be able to be used in Queensland’s far north – including the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas and Cairns – until the end of June, covering the Easter holidays.

“We know that the people in the far north, especially the tourism industry, are doing it tough,” she told reporters.

“We have decided that we want to make sure that people across Queensland get to enjoy tropical far north Queensland, but most importantly, let’s help people who need help the most.”

Residents will need to enter a ballot to obtain one of the vouchers.

The Palaszczuk government has repeatedly demanded the federal government extend financial support to the tourism industry beyond the end of jobkeeper at the end of March.

The government has been considering providing a targeted support package for the industry, but has yet to make an announcement.

Palaszczuk’s call for an extension of the wage subsidy for tourism operators was criticised by her counterparts in southern states, with NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian saying the state had been a victim of its own strict border closures.

Queensland’s move to introduce vouchers follows similar schemes set up by New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

NSW’s scheme gives $100 per person for meals, movies, zoo visits and more in certain areas. It has been running since early February, targeting hard-hit areas, where tourism has suffered or business activity has declined.

The NSW scheme relies on residents spending at registered venues. By the start of the second stage of the program in late February, only 3,500 businesses had registered.

The South Australian scheme offers $100 vouchers for Adelaide CBD accomodation and $50 vouchers for regional and suburban accomodation. Its second round experienced huge demand. About 75,000 vouchers were snapped up in 40 minutes, and the South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive, Rodney Harrex, said the website was getting 112,000 requests per minute at its peak.

“In the first hour of the program, there were 3.1 million requests to southaustralia.com – a very strong indication that the vouchers were in high demand, and South Australians are keen to support our state’s tourism sector,” he said.

Victoria’s scheme, now in its third stage, offers $200 to help cover regional holidays.

The program ran into some difficulties early on. When the first vouchers were released in late December, the state government’s website crashed.

The vouchers in the second round – about 40,000 in total – were allocated within 30 minutes. The next round opens at 10am on 30 March 2021.

The voucher schemes have been welcomed by the tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the loss of international arrivals and constant border closures.

Mark Olsen, chief executive of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, said the scheme announced on Sunday would inject $14m into the region.

“That’s because all of those Australians who have been coming up since the borders closed, those first timers and ‘haven’t been in a long-timers’, have been absolutely loving their experience in Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef,” Olsen said.

The Queensland scheme will open for ballot entries between 8 March and 11 March. The vouchers can be used from 15 March to 25 June.

The Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory are also running voucher schemes.

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