Australian tourism and COVID-19: Tourism minister Dan Tehan urges big spending

Spend, spend, spend on domestic travel in 2021 - that's the message to Australians from newly-installed federal tourism minister Dan Tehan, despite the fact that tens of thousands of workers will lose his government's JobKeeper pandemic relief payments when they expire at the end of the month.

Television presenter Karl Stefanovic, master of ceremonies at a Tourism Australia industry event where Mr Tehan was the keynote speaker, interpreted the minister's entreaties - his first major address to the beleaguered industry - even more bluntly. Basically Australians should not be "tight arses" when it comes to taking a domestic holiday and spending up on one, said the moonlighting host of the Nine's Today show.

In a speech that equated travelling domestically with patriotism, Mr Tehan told the crowd of tourism industry attendees - themselves profoundly concerned about JobKeeper's expiration - that Australians should avoid "penny pinching" and spend on a holiday "like you've never spent before".

"Every dollar spent on a holiday in Australia is a dollar that supports a tourism job and business and helps support our wonderful tourism sector," Mr Tehan said. "So now is the time to book a holiday and explore one of our major cities and experience the world-class accommodation, attractions, dining and culture on offer."

The venue for the conference Sydney's International Convention Centre (ICC), is itself an illustration of the dire state of the industry. The centre has been rendered a virtual white elephant with the collapse of the lucrative international and domestic conference, convention and exhibition segment as a result of COVID-19.

Mr Tehan's appearance coincided with the launch of Tourism Australia's latest iteration of its "Holiday here this year" campaign, a $6 million "City Escapes" push designed to promote travel to and within Australia's capitals which have suffered badly from the effects of the pandemic compared with regional centres.

For the year ending September 2020, expenditure by Australians on overnight trips fell across Australia by 34 per cent, or a loss of $27.1 billion compared with the previous year and it's the big cities that are bearing most of the pain, according to Tourism Research Australia.

Mr Tehan, who indicated the federal government was formulating a plan to "build a bridge for tourism" via a replacement wage subsidy scheme, said he hoped the distribution of vaccines would instill more confidence in state and territory governments with damaging snap lockdowns becoming a "last resort".

Pip Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia, reiterated her recent public comments at a Nine travel symposium, by calling on the industry to explore "creative solutions around the processes for opening up international borders."

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