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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
'Damn you Qantas' says Gold Coast
Gold Coast
"We're no Hicksville," Gold Coasters say
Travellers in Australia's Gold Coast - a string of beach resorts in Queensland - have taken the unusual step of complaining that air fares are too low.

There have been protests over Qantas' decision to discontinue business class flights from Melbourne and Sydney, and to launch a no-frills budget service.

"Damn you, Qantas" bellowed the front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin.

The newspaper insisted: "We are Australia's five-star tourist capital, not your no-frills Hicksville."

Business is bad

Qantas has pointed out that it rarely filled more than two or three business-class seats a day to the Gold Coast.

It also pointed out that the new service, operated by its budget Jetstar airline, represented a 20% increase in capacity, as well as a cut of 30% in ticket prices.

Qantas jet over Sydney
Qantas is struggling to keep up with the competition
But the move has sparked a lively debate in the region.

Tourism chiefs have given Qantas a cautious thumbs-up, arguing that almost all potential visitors are interested in value for money.

Politicians and the media, meanwhile, resent the implied snub, and argue that the region's business leaders will resent being crammed into "cattle class".

The Gold Coast Bulletin has launched a competition for readers to tell it in 100 words or less just what they think of Qantas.

The prize is a return trip to Sydney - on Virgin.

Going down-market

The row does illustrate a serious issue for Qantas, however.

The airline long enjoyed a near-monopoly of the Australian market, but is now struggling to compete with a growing band of low-cost rivals.

But its attempts to cut costs and downgrade unprofitable routes have run into opposition from staff, and have aroused persistent political controversy.

Qantas was privatised in 1995, but remains a national icon for many Australians.

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