Interview with Jo Laverty, ABC Radio Darwin Breakfast

  • Transcript
Subjects: Tourism and aviation support package
29 March 2021

Jo Laverty: Dan Tehan is the Federal Tourism Minister. Good morning, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Hello, Jo. How are you this morning?

Laverty: I'm very well, thank you very much. So, are you able to give us an update on where people will be able to fly to Darwin with a half price ticket?

Tehan: Yeah, look, it's being finalised as we speak, with the airlines, but any interstate direct route to Darwin is what we're looking at at the moment, and that will be finalised very shortly. But, that's what's being looked at at the moment.

Laverty: So, does that mean any capital city or just about anywhere from in Australia?

Tehan: So, that means that any interstate direct route. So, if it's, obviously if it's not a capital city but it's a interstate direct route, then that is, that is a possibility. We're working through this with the airlines. The airlines have been very good. They've obviously been discounting as well. They even started the discounting before our scheme starts, which starts at the beginning of April, and we've seen a 40 per cent increase in bookings ahead of our scheme starting, both on Virgin and Qantas, which is fantastic. And, my message to everyone listening is, especially as the school holidays are approaching, make sure you do yourself a favour, take a holiday, go to the wonderful destinations around this country – even if you just drive one or two hours to take a holiday – and make sure you spend and support the local tourism operators when you're doing so.

Laverty: We'll get to the details of exactly when people can jump online and start booking these very shortly. But, just to the point of it being a direct flight, I don't know if you've seen some of those flights that you can take to and from Darwin, but a lot of them have many stops along the way and often there's only one route that's direct for any given time, which really limits how many flights we're going to be able to have, wouldn't you say?

Tehan: No, I think what you'll find is that people will be looking to fly to Darwin, and if they can get there directly that's what they'll be seeking to do because it's a great destination. I'll tell you, one of the things that I've been very keen to do is get to the Darwin Cup. I've never been to a Darwin Cup, and I'd love to get up there and spend a few days at the Darwin Cup, but you've got just such fantastic events, activities, landscapes, beautiful places to visit. I think you'll find that Australians, because they can't travel overseas, will be looking to travel to Darwin and support your tourism industry, as they will the centre of the Northern Territory. So, I would expect lots of tourists to be heading your way, and why wouldn't they? And, we've got to remember, while people can't travel overseas, if they spend like they spend overseas that will absolutely support our tourism industry. And, that's what we're going to be encouraging all Australians to do, is to make sure not only do you travel using the discounted airfares we're seeing at the moment, but what you save on your discounted airfare make sure you put it into the local economy, into those tourist attractions, because that's the best way we can support our tourism industry.

Laverty: It is terrifically exciting to hear you say, so, Darwin is now included – anywhere on a direct flight to Darwin will be eligible for those half price tickets. Can we just go back to the beginning – why wasn't Darwin in the initial list of destinations?

Tehan: Well, what happened initially was that we always said that there would be 15 destinations, I think if I remember correctly. And, initially we announced I think there were 13. So, there were always two or three we were looking at and just working through with the airlines. You'll probably remember I went on FM radio in Darwin, I can't remember the exact time but I think it was mid-morning, saying that Darwin would be on because Darwin was one of the routes that we were looking at. It was basically Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart were the ones that we were sort of in final negotiations on. So, I was very keen to see Darwin included and we just had to dot I's and cross T's, and that's what we did. And, it was terrific, terrific news for the NT because all your aviation routes are well-covered – not all of them, but very much the majority of them are well-covered by this announcement – and I think people will be flocking to the NT to visit all those wonderful sites you've got there.

Laverty: What was different about Darwin, and I think the other, the 15th, was Adelaide. What was different about Darwin that meant the negotiations weren't done by the time you made the big announcement?

Tehan: Well, we were just working through with the airlines what routes that they were providing discounts on and what routes we needed to provide discounts on. So, if you have a look and some, as we were going through the negotiations, Melbourne and Sydney – there was already heavy discounting going on between those two cities. So, we looked at that and spoke to the airlines about that and they said, for instance, there's $60 flights between Melbourne and Sydney. So, we went through the same thing with Adelaide, with Darwin and with Hobart, and were working it through with the airlines. And, once it became clear that there wasn't going to be the discounting that was, that we were going to see with some of the other routes in and out of capital cities, that's why we decided to put Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart on.

Laverty: And, how much of an influence did Senator Sam McMahon's pestering have on this decision?

Tehan: Oh, look, everyone – Sam and the NT, everyone from the NT – you know, were very keen to have Darwin included, and I can understand why. This program has been incredibly successful. I've had literally every local government area in Australia, whether they've had an airport or not, writing to me saying they wanted to be included on the list. So, it's been extraordinary. Even some regional areas which are mountainous, where we'd have to be discounting helicopter flights in, were very keen to be part of this. So, I can understand why everyone, including Sam, were very passionate about making sure that Darwin was included, and it's great news that it is. I'm very fond of Darwin, love the weather up there, and I can't wait to try and get up there myself and enjoy some of the wonderful hospitality.

Laverty: We're glad to be a part of the program now, but initially it must have been like picking your favourite child, Dan Tehan, and there has been a lot of criticism from those places that have not been included in the destination, the final destination list that yes, this will save some tourism sectors, but others are left wanting. Is there anything else in the bucket for those that have been left behind?

Tehan: Well, one of the things that sort of got a little bit lost in the noise due to its popularity and everyone wanting to be a part of it, was one of the key things about this was driving confidence to get people travelling again, and one of the key messages I want to give, especially to all state and territory leaders, is the biggest thing that was holding people back was state and territory border closures, and the fact that the Commonwealth Government was out saying let's get moving again, let's get people travelling again, was a message that was heard loud and clear. And, as I said, we saw a 40 per cent increase in bookings before the program had even started, and that's wonderful news for our tourism industry. And, what we want to do is encourage people to fly and travel, and as I've said, the aviation sector are doing their part. It's not only these destinations that they're discounting on with support from the Commonwealth Government, but they're discounting tickets right across Australia. And, my message to everyone is get out there, travel, enjoy the discount tickets that are on offer, and also remember to spend big as well because that's how we can help support our tourism industry, and remembering that when we go overseas, we tend to take a ride or visit an attraction or go out for a meal much more so than we do when we're in Australia. And, we've just got to for the next, before we can travel overseas again, just change that mindset a little bit and make sure when we do that domestic trip here in Australia, we're really spending big and supporting our tourism industry.

Laverty: This is ABC Radio Darwin. It's almost 25 past seven. I'm speaking with the Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan. A question – quite a few people have asked this – is it a half price return fare or is it just one way? How does the actual …

Tehan: … No, no, it's a half price return airfare. So, it's the half price to the destination and then return, that's the way it'll work. There'll be approximately 46,000 a week, over 800,000 discounted flights. They will be staggered. Obviously, we're already seeing very strong demand in the Easter and school holiday period. So, we're making sure we're working with the airlines to ensure that demand continues on for the next two to three months, which is really important.

Laverty: And, last time I checked, we were able to fly to Broome and Cairns from Darwin on that half price ticket. Is that list going to be extended?

Tehan: So, that's right. You'll be able to fly to those locations as well, and the final list will literally be out within, my hope is today and if not today, tomorrow, as we once again dot I's and cross T's with the airlines. But, any interstate direct route to one of the destinations you should be able to fly to from Darwin.

Laverty: So, for example, there are some really great direct flights between Darwin and Adelaide. So, that would be a half price ticket?

Tehan: That would be a half price ticket, as I understand it, as part of these final negotiations, and we'll be able to give you absolutely direct confirmation of that hopefully today and if not today, tomorrow.

Laverty: And, this is ABC Radio Darwin. Let's just move on, oh sorry, when can we start booking? That's the important question. When can we get online and start these bookings?

Tehan: Yeah, you could start booking at the beginning of April, so we haven't got long to go. What, I think today is the …

Laverty: … 29th of March …

Tehan: … 29th, so yeah. So, what are we, two days away, I think, or three days away, Thursday. So, that'll be, everyone will be able to get online, and one thing if I could just remind people is, if you can book through your travel agent that would be terrific, because obviously we want to be supporting our travel agents at this time as well. The Federal Government has stepped in and given another package for our travel agents who are doing it tough at the moment. But, if I could encourage everyone to try and book through your travel agents to help and support them, that would be terrific.

Laverty: Are the airlines confident that their websites are going to be able to cope with the massive influx of traffic that's going to be coming their way?

Tehan: Well, they are and, but also remembering that what we want is people to also think about their travel agents as well. So, because if you support them, and the best thing we can do – because we have seen some issues when it comes to some of the state and territory schemes where they've run voucher schemes, where their systems have crashed – so, one of the things we're asking everyone is not only think about booking through the airlines but also through your travel agents, because the more we can disperse the demand, the better it is, and so, think about your local travel agent when you're thinking about if you do want to take a trip or not.

Laverty: It is very welcome news. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

Tehan: Been a pleasure, Jo. You take care.

Laverty: You too, bye bye. That's Minister Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Tourism.

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