Finally, after 20 months, the federal government will lift Australia’s travel ban in November, but industry heavyweights say much more needs to be done before a recovery can take place.
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia will lift its ban on overseas travel next month, but industry figures are urging the government to meet with industry bodies and establish a clear path to a resumption of travel.
But while the PM’s announcement was “the best news we have had so far this year”, according to Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) chair Tom Manwaring, the next steps in Australia’s reopening plan will be crucial.
“Along with eliminating airline seat caps, the aim must be quickly removing all hurdles for all approved, vaccinated inbound passengers to access rapid testing,” he said.
“Once they get a negative test, they should be able to go about normal activity immediately.”
Australia’s travel sector has been in hard lockdown for 600 days already, and Manwaring warned that until international travel normalises in 2022, an ongoing financial lifeline is now critical for the 30,000 Australians working in travel and the 3,000 agencies and businesses who employ them.
“As so many Australians have discovered during COVID, travel agents are essential and even more important given the challenges of travelling internationally [and] given the morass of differing requirements,” Manwaring said.
Philip Goh, regional vice president of the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) regional vice president, echoed AFTA’s concerns.
“Realistically, the woes of the travel and tourism sectors will persist as long as passenger caps are retained for unvaccinated arrivals and quarantine remains even for the vaccinated,” he said.
“International travel recovery will be muted and restrained when quarantine remains.”
Goh urged the federal government to follow guidance from the World Health Organization by relaxing measures and/or quarantine requirements for travellers who are fully vaccinated, and to provide alternatives for unvaccinated individuals through testing.
“A number of major states – the US, Canada, European states – have lifted quarantine requirements for international arrivals. Australia needs to work towards a similar approach,” Goh said.
Australia’s Prime Minister said on Friday that once home quarantine pilots in NSW and South Australia are complete, fully-vaccinated citizens and permanent residents will be able to quarantine at home for seven days instead of forking out thousands of dollars for two weeks in hotel quarantine.
Unvaccinated Australians will still need to follow the pre-existing hotel quarantine requirements.
Those who can’t be vaccinated because they are under 12 or have a medical condition will be treated as vaccinated for the purpose of travel.
Margy Osmond, CEO of Australia’s Tourism and Transport Forum, said she will work closely with the federal government to ensure quarantine requirements will taper off as quickly as possible as vaccination numbers increase.
“We will also be calling for international inbound tourists, international business travellers and those travelling for major events to be allowed to travel as freely as outbound and returning Australians, as the immediate next step,” she said.
Michael Kaine, national secretary at the Transport Workers’ Union, has also expressed concerns about aviation, arguing that while flights taking off again will bring relief to struggling workers, the reprieve will be short-lived if safety measures are not enforced.
“Rapid pre-flight testing must be urgently established across the international and domestic networks to reduce the risk of transmission and keep planes flying day in, day out,” Kaine said.
“We must arm ourselves with every available weapon to protect aviation from COVID shocks, but we have been provided no such plan from the federal government.”
In terms of cruise travel, the regional head of the Cruise Lines International Association, Joel Katz, said the government’s lack of action on cruising meant that the jobs of more than 18,000 Australians were still in doubt.
“Australia is now one of the only major cruise markets in the world with no clear plan for cruising’s revival,” Katz said.
“We need detailed discussions with Australian governments so we can break the cycle of inaction and agree upon a detailed framework for cruising’s resumption.
“The health protocols introduced overseas are working and we need an opportunity to introduce them in Australia so we can plan a careful and responsible recovery.”
Qantas’ resumption of international flights pushed forward
Australia’s national carrier has brought forward the restart of its international flights in light of the government’s announcement.
In September, Qantas revealed it would resume international flights across 12 routes from 18 December, including London, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Fiji, Vancouver and Singapore.
However, the airline announced it would kick off three weekly return flights between Sydney and London, and three weekly return flights between Sydney and Los Angeles from 14 November.
“The early reopening of Australia’s international borders will mean so much to so many people, and it’s made possible by the amazing ramp-up of the vaccine rollout,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
“We’d already sold out some of our international flights for December and seen strong demand on flights to and from London and Los Angeles, so we’re confident there will be a lot of interest in these earlier services.
Joyce also joined AFTA and IATA in calling for eased quarantine restrictions.
“Beyond the initial rush, the ongoing demand for international flights will hinge largely on what the quarantine requirements are,” he said.
“The shift to seven day home quarantine for fully-vaccinated Australians with a negative test is a great step towards reducing this closer to what is becoming standard in many countries overseas, which is a test and release program.”
In other good news, G Adventures is celebrating the resumption of international travel by extending up to 20 per cent off a wide range of its most popular Classic tours.
Later this month, G Adventures will also celebrate having run 1,000 tours safely and successfully since September 2020 – more tours than any other operator since the onset of the global pandemic – supporting employment and boosting the local economies in countries dependent on tourism such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Peru.
Featured image source: iStock/ArtMarie