OPINION: Another year of hard borders could crush the tourism sector

Border closed displayed on overhead highway sign. Composite image.

Internationally recognised tourism expert Professor Sam Huang believes another year of hard borders could cripple Australia’s largest service export industry. In this opinion piece, he explains why…

Australia’s international border was closed to most foreigners on 20 March 2020. Our border is likely to remain closed for the rest of 2021 – though the federal government has held out some hope it could be earlier if the national vaccination program proves effective.

Globally, Australia is already among the most affected countries by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of tourism revenue loss, despite the relatively low number of reported cases. Australia lost A$35.44 billion tourism revenue in the first 10 months of 2020, ranking eighth on the list of countries that have suffered the most tourism revenue losses due to the pandemic.

Tourism is Australia’s largest service export industry as shown in Australia’s government strategy paper Tourism 2020. It is too important to be subverted by the current pandemic situation.

How does tourism contribute to the Australian economy?

Tourism accounted for around 13 per cent of Australia’s total number of businesses, employing five per cent of the national workforce in the financial year 2018-2019.

Domestic tourism has remained relatively buoyant, in part due to a push from governments and tourism bodies to promote holidaying locally. In 2019, Australians spent A$80.7 billion on domestic overnight trips and A$26.3 billion on daytrips. In the year ending September 2020, Australians had spent A$51.9 billion on domestic overnight trips.

However internationally things are tough. Latest international visitor arrivals data from Tourism Australia show there were only 7,570 visitor arrivals in November 2020, marking a 99.1 per cent sharp decrease compared to the same month visitor arrivals in the previous year.

The demise of Australia’s tourism industry may also impact employment levels, especially among young Australians. According to Austrade, tourism jobs decreased 18 per cent compared to just 7 per cent across the Australian labour force over 2020.

2021 could be a life-and-death year

It is understandable during the pandemic that country borders are tightly controlled and monitored to prevent the spread of the virus through human mobility. However, keeping country border exclusively closed to all major inbound tourism market countries may not be a judicious solution in the longer term.

Australia has been performing exceptionally well in containing COVID-19 infections. However more flexible, strategic and differentiating international border policies are needed to avoid significant damage to the tourism industry.

Currently, Australia is discussing a two-way travel bubble with Singapore, which would allow travellers from one country to land on another without compulsory self-quarantine, on the condition of pre-trip vaccination. It is likely New Zealand may join the duet to form a three-way travel bubble.

New Zealanders have been allowed to travel quarantine-free travel into Victoria and NSW since October.

Australia must explore more innovative, strategic and safe ways to begin allowing travel into the country while maintaining strict health protocols.

Lessons from China

By the end of 2020, China has enjoyed an positive recovery for its domestic tourism. The quick adoption of a health code app after the COVID outbreak in February 2020 seems to be an effective measure using technology to contain the virus spread.

Like China, Australia could integrate government travel safe apps to build an industry-oriented travel safety system.  Border control agencies and tourism operators could be better prepared to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 with technology like electronic documenting of tourists’ health status, e-certification of vaccination and mobile app tracking of tourists.

A whole trip risk mitigation plan in collaboration with partner tour operators in tourist-origin countries could be developed and put into practice. Such a plan would include pre-trip tests and health status verification, vaccination certification, quarantine management if needed, destination movement and contact tracking, emergency response, and post-trip test and clearance.

Such collaborative industry COVID-response plans will also help to recover the market confidence for international tourism and travel.

When borders can be conditionally opened, international cooperation will be important to jointly reduce infection risks, both in tourist-origin countries and Australia.

Sam Huang is a Professor of Tourism at Edith Cowen University.


Featured image source: iStock/shaunl

Latest News

  • Cruise

Cruise Traveller’s new Scottish Highlands cruise tour package

Australian small ship cruising specialist, Cruise Traveller, offers a 20-night land and sea holiday in the UK aboard the Lord of the Glens. The tiny cruise line’s 52-guest boutique vessel, Lord of the Glens, is purpose-built to explore the intricate waterways and lochs of the Scottish Highlands. It boasts a rich, traditional ambience with polished […]

  • Cruise

Celebrity Xcel’s keel-laying ceremony in France, with 2025 inaugural sail planned

Construction has commenced on Celebrity Cruises’ next ship, Celebrity Xcel, with a keel-laying ceremony at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. An Edge Series ship, Celebrity Xcel will set sail in autumn 2025, with several new yet-to-be-revealed offerings. At the ceremony, Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group (RCG), the parent […]

  • Destinations
  • Tour Operators

Globus unveils nine new independent tours for 2025

Coach touring brand Globus has unveiled nine new independent tours for 2025, from Bangkok to Bali and Abu Dhabi to Nepal. “With Globus Independent tours, our guests are free to enjoy the many benefits of touring, untethered and unscheduled,” APAC head of marketing, Globus family of brands (GFOB), Chris Fundell said. “Providing hand-picked hotel accommodations, […]

  • Hotels

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group opens Mandarin Oriental Mayfair

The Mandarin Oriental has opened a second property in London, the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, in the heart of historic Hanover Square. Designed by internationally renowned Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, the hotel is the first new build in Mayfair in over a decade. Bringing a modern architectural approach to one of London’s most storied squares, […]

  • Hotels

Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort unveils Coral Kids Club

On top of its US$85 million (AU$150m) transformation, Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort’s new Coral Kids Club provides an engaging activity centre for kids. Designed for keiki (children), ages 5-12, the activity centre offers daily cultural workshops with hands-on activities rooted around the Āina Guardian workbook. It was developed by Candes Gentry, co-author of Eat […]

  • Hotels

Minor Hotels announces fourth franchised hotel

Minor Hotels has added to its portfolio of more than 500 hotels in operation after signing Oaks Melbourne on William Suites as its fourth franchised hotel. The 220-room apartment hotel is the third Oaks property signed under a franchise model after the Oaks Toowoomba and Oaks Townsville Metropole. The proven success of these properties highlights […]

  • Destinations

Phuket unveils cutting-edge medical facility

Minor Hotels has announced Layan Life by Anantara, a world-class medical wellness facility that is set to elevate Phuket’s reputation as an international medical wellness destination. The new facility is set across 1,767sqm within the grounds of Anantara Layan Phuket Resort and is set to open in Q3 of this year. It offers a blend […]

  • Events

Out West Piano Fest comes alive in Bathurst

The three-day symphony of the senses comes back to Bathurst, at picturesque Blackdown Farm, as Out West Piano Fest returns 25-27 October. Located just five minutes away from Bathurst NSW is a pastoral heritage, art, and culture. It was also once home to Australian artist, Tim Storrier. The extensive gardens in full spring bloom offer […]

  • Attractions
  • Cruise

Japan in Bloom with Cruise Express

Send clients out to experience the best of the Land of the Rising Sun with Cruise Express and their Japan in Bloom expedition, a 21-night adventure. As interest in Japan hits an all-time high, Cruise Express is pleased to announce its ultimate Japanese bucket list trip. This adventure is geared for Australians wanting to tick […]

  • Road & Rail

Explore Uzbekistan with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains presents an exclusive itinerary to Uzbekistan with ensuite cabins, a personal cabin attendant, and off-train excursions. Travelling aboard the opulent Golden Eagle train, with ensuite cabins, guests will dive deep into Uzbekistan’s spectacularly global cultural identity. A personal cabin attendant, all porterage and gratuities and all off train excursions are included […]