Aviation

Qantas delays international restart, as Joyce issues “hermit state” warning

Qantas Group has pushed back its planned restart of international flights beyond the trans-Tasman bubble from the end of October 2021 to late December.

The decision comes after last night’s Federal Budget announcement revealed Australia’s vaccine rollout is expected to be completed at the end of 2021, meaning the international border isn’t expected to reopen until mid-2022.

Qantas Group said it remains optimistic that additional bubbles will open once Australia’s vaccine rollout is complete “to countries who, by then, are in a similar position, but it’s difficult to predict which ones at this stage”.

“This planning assumption will allow the Qantas Group – and Australia – to be ready to take advantage of pockets of tourism and trade opportunity as they emerge in a post-COVID world,” the company said in a statement.

“We will keep reviewing these plans as we move towards December and circumstances evolve.

“In the meantime, the Qantas Group will continue to provide critical repatriation and freight flights overseas, and support the recovery of travel at home. The resurgence of domestic travel remains the most important element of the group’s recovery.”

The company said it will reach out directly to any customers with a booking between 31 October 2021 and 19 December 2021, but noted that recent levels of uncertainty meant international booking levels were relatively low.

Speaking at Adelaide Airport last week, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce voiced his concern over the federal government’s reluctance to restart international travel, warning that Australia could become a “hermit” if the border continues to remain shut, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The flying kangaroo’s main man said Australia’s slow reopening of its international border could also push tourists to “find other markets”, but he did note that hitting the “sweet spot” between speed and safety was possible in regard to the resumption of overseas travel.

Image source: iStock/Christopher Malek

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said the federal government’s Budget confirmation that international travel is likely to remain low through to mid-2022 highlights the critical need for ongoing support for travel agents and businesses.

“The budget predicts the rate of international arrivals will continue to be constrained with the exception of passengers from safe travel zones,” he said.

“Getting these zones declared and started sooner rather than later is important, especially for corporate Australia.

“Travel zones allow safe travel and we need action now. International travel is the fuel that sustains corporate Australia and, given 70 per cent of international travel in Australia is booked through travel agents, travel zones would provide the stimulus needed to keep travel agents and businesses going.”

Manwaring said the agent sector has already shrunk from 40,000 to 25,000 even with government support via the $258 million COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program.

“Ongoing government support and safe travel via travel zones will sustain our sector through the predicted international ban to mid-2022 and ensure we are here to help restart the economy as we return to normal,” he said.

Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, said the Budget outlook for international travel does not give any confidence to the tourism industry.

“Tourism remains one of the most affected sectors in Australia’s impressive economic recovery. It remains impacted by consumer concerns and disruptions to interstate travel due to regulatory restrictions,” he said.

“The Federal Budget outlook indicates no foreseeable international market recovery for Australia’s visitor economy, and this sadly spells further tourism business and job losses.

“Australian tourism’s economic value more than halved during the pandemic and was the largest job-shedding sector. Recovery has still some way to go for many.

“Low national COVID-19 vaccination rates need to be rapidly lifted urgently to enable industry to work constructively with the government on a safe, if staggered, future border re-opening timetable.”

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