Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson has fended off criticism from the sector, which accused the Rudd Government of bailing out the car industry but not tour and hotel operators because they did not have union backing.

Writing in The Australian today, Mr Ferguson ruled out a funding lifeline for the tourism industry, saying “no government handout can solve the challenges presently faced by the Australian tourism industry”.

“Of course, many people have questioned why the Australian car manufacturing industry is deserving of an industry-specific assistance package, but the tourism sector is not,” he writes.

“The simple answer is that the proposals being put forward by some within the tourism industry, which would see the Government subsidising Australians having a local holiday, would not deliver the structural changes that will be achieved in the car manufacturing industry in coming years.

“They will not improve the product, the industry’s level of service, or its value for money.”

The travel industry has been hit hard by the global financial crisis as foreign visitors choose to stay at home instead of travelling to Australia. It fears domestic travel will also decline this year amid evidence of falling inquiries.

The sector this week appealed for help after Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed the number of foreign visitors to Australia plummeted 5.1 per cent in November compared with the same period the year before.

In informal talks with officials from the minister’s office, the National Tourism Alliance requested tax concessions for people taking annual leave and attending conferences and training, in a bid to boost domestic tourism.

But Mr Ferguson writes today that the industry must instead work harder to provide better products, service and value for money so Australians holiday at home instead of spending money on overseas travel or plasma televisions.

Mr Ferguson says the Government is working to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry by investing in infrastructure, skills and labour requirements.