Plan to give tourists free flights

INTERNATIONAL tourists could be offered free flights to Australia in a bid to counteract the downturn in tourism due to the global financial crisis.

Under the plan, labelled the "Mayday Project" and due to be put to the Federal Government this week, visitors who take up the offer will be required to spend a specified amount of money, say $5000, within Australia, which would bolster local shops, hotels and restaurants.

The airfares, which would be offered at a discounted rate by participating airlines, would be paid for by the Government. Airlines have suffered a massive decline in passengers, particularly in the international market.

Inbound tourism has taken a considerable hit, falling by at least 1 per cent compared to a year ago.

The Mayday Project is the brainchild of Independent Tourism Holdings' innovation director Glenn Millen, who says the free flights, favourable exchange rate and novelty of the promotion would position it strongly to succeed.

"We can really limit the impact of the recessionary slide on tourism through this," he said. "We can try and hold the numbers that we were at and that would be a really good scenario or, if there is a Santa Claus, we might increase the numbers against the trend."

Mr Millen, who came up with the idea earlier this year, said the money could be redirected from the Government's pre-existing tourism marketing budget.

He said Tourism Queensland's "Best Job In The World" promotion, which has already generated $70 million in free publicity, was an example of the type of innovative tourism project that could succeed during tough economic times.

Independent Tourism Holdings director Steve Cusworth, who is steering the project, will meet with the federal, state and territory governments, as well as airlines and industry players, to discuss the proposal.

Across Australia, the number of international holidaymakers to Australia dropped 6.5 per cent to 141,000 in 2008.

The figures are expected to slip further as the global financial crisis tightens its grip on economies, and disposable incomes, around the world.