The travel industry’s peak lobbying groups are urging the government to provide more clarity, support and a shift in vaccine prioritisation in response to the government’s new roadmap to ‘normal’.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed details of the national cabinet’s four-phase ‘pathway out of COVID-19’ on Friday, and said the plan relies on certain vaccine thresholds that will need to be reached.
Details of the road map have not been released, but the PM said travel restrictions are to be eased for vaccinated Australians once a certain proportion of the population has received the jab.
Morrison also announced the inbound travel cap would be halved in response to the highly contagious Delta strain of COVID-19.
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) estimates that international travel is still at least six months if not a year away for most Australians, given that the government has estimated that the vaccine will be available to everyone by the end of the year.
AFTA chair Tom Manwaring said while he welcomes the new plan, the government needs to provide ongoing support.
“The reality is that we have already lost approximately 15,000 jobs in our sector as a result of the COVID shutdown,” he said.
“We need ongoing support for Australia’s travel agents and businesses who are performing such important work in supporting customers and whose skill and expertise will be so heavily relied on as Australians start travelling again given the complexities of COVID-travel.
“This is important support for the remaining 30,000 jobs and 3,000 travel agency and businesses.”
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has echoed AFTA’s concerns, instead calling on the government to prioritise vaccine access for domestic aviation workers and introduce pre-flight testing.
According to the TWU, phase one’s community transmission suppression will fail in its goal to avoid “last resort” lockdowns without protecting aviation workers on the front line.
Transmission on flights has so far occurred between two Virgin Australia flight attendants and two passengers, placing over a hundred aviation workers in emergency isolation.
A separate passenger flew into Townsville while unknowingly infectious, which put hundreds of thousands of people into lockdown last week, and several airports have been identified as exposure sites including in Alice Springs, which also entered lockdown as a result.
“Suppressing the spread of community transmission across borders depends on the federal government providing priority vaccine access to domestic aviation workers and introducing rapid pre-flight testing,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.
“For months, aviation workers have called for these safety measures, including in letters sent to Scott Morrison [last] week.
“Workers doing the important jobs of cleaning, loading and servicing aircraft should not be forced to do so at a risk to their safety and that of their families.
“Rather than distant ideals, we need urgent national leadership and a plan for aviation that will ensure the safety of workers and passengers and strengthen the viability of businesses in this critical industry for Australia.”
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has also raised questions about the plan given the Prime Minister did not mention whether the easing of restrictions would extend to the domestic cruising sector.
CLIA’s regional managing director, Joel Katz, has urged the government to include carefully managed domestic cruise operations within the early stages of their plans.
“Australia is now the only major cruise market in the world where no progress has been made towards a responsible cruise resumption,” Katz said.
“We need urgent action from governments to save jobs and revive economic opportunities for communities around the country.”
Clean Cruising’s general manager Dan Russell said Morrison’s announcement gives some hope that the relaxed travel restrictions for vaccinated Australians will apply to cruising.
“The fact that Mr Morrison is moving in this direction makes it even more imperative for federal and state governments to agree on a pathway for the resumption of domestic cruising,” Russell said.
“Nothing could be more damaging for the travel sector currently in limbo in the absence of a plan for the restart of the $5 billion a year cruise industry. Having no plan means that these companies cannot do any business planning including making decisions in relation to staff retention.”
However, the Accommodation Association is singing the National Cabinet’s praises for its efforts with the plan, with CEO Dean Long welcoming the “common-sense approach”.
“We look forward to continuing to work with government at all levels as we work towards establishing key milestones in learning to live safely with COVID within a more normal framework,” he said.
“Our people and our properties, especially those hotels and accommodation providers in Sydney and Melbourne, have been under immense pressure, and [Friday’s] announcement means we can all breathe a little easier because an end is now in sight.”
“We welcome the enhanced vaccination rollout, and we encourage all Australians to get vaccinated so that we can all get back to living and travelling sooner rather than later.”
Featured image source: iStock/smshoot