QANTAS and its budget offshoot, Jetstar, will slash flights to destinations in the Northern Territory, blaming weak demand on the high Australian dollar deterring overseas tourists.
In the latest sign of the challenges facing tourism, Qantas will halve return flights between Uluru and Cairns to seven a week from September, and reduce services between the red centre and Perth from four a week to two. It will suspend the latter service from October 28.
Jetstar will also cut return flights between Sydney and Darwin from up to 11 a week to seven from August 16. The carrier will reduce services between Darwin and Denpasar in Bali from 11 to eight from the same date.
The new chief of Qantas domestic operations, Lyell Strambi, said the performance of the routes to the Northern Territory had been poor for some time despite various strategies aimed at stimulating demand.
''The impact of the high Australian dollar on the inbound tourism market has also had a significant impact on the performance of these services,'' he said.
Qantas will redeploy several Boeing 737 aircraft used on the routes to the Northern Territory to other parts of its domestic network, including the east coast where it intends to beef up capacity.
Jetstar had signalled routes from its aircraft base in Darwin have been among its most marginal. The low-cost airline will redeploy one of four single-aisle A320 planes based in Darwin to the east coast.
In February, the Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, told a Senate committee that flights to Darwin and Cairns were unprofitable. He warned law changes aimed at limiting its ability to hire foreign-based flight crews would force Jetstar to pull out of Darwin and Cairns.
A spokesman for the peak industry body, the Tourism and Transport Forum, said yesterday that regional areas such as Uluru, which were dependent on foreign leisure travellers, had been suffering for several years.
Although Australia has been benefiting from a big increase in Chinese tourists, the spokesman said they tended to stay in cities such as Sydney and Brisbane rather than venture to regional tourism hot spots.
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