Fully-vaccinated Australians will be allowed to travel overseas by December “at the latest”, according to Tourism Minister Dan Tehan.
The federal government is expected to begin the gradual reopening of international borders once 80 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.
Based on current projections, Australia is expected to reach this goal in December.
Speaking to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Tehan urged states to stick to the national plan and encouraged Aussies to “roll up their sleeves”.
“[International travel] is another reason why everyone should get vaccinated. We have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up, at this rate, by Christmas at the latest,” he said.
Last week, Qantas revealed it had scheduled the resumption of 12 international routes from 18 December, including flights to London, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Singapore, Tokyo, Fiji and Hawaii.
The Tourism Minister was not clear whether Australians will be allowed to travel on those flights, but said quarantine requirements would still be in place for countries that Australia hadn’t formed a travel bubble arrangement with.
According to Tehan, the government hopes to achieve zero quarantine requirements, but testing needs to be done first.
“One of the hopes we have, especially in the lead-up to Christmas, is that we’ll be able to see states and territories putting in place home quarantine arrangements for returning Australians. We still have a little bit of work to do on that,” he said, adding that he would also like to see shorter quarantine lengths in place.
“When an individual state hits that 80 per cent vax rate, it means that outbound travel will resume. People will be able to freely travel outside of Australia with no restrictions or limitations.
“Obviously, it will depend on the requirements that have been put in place of the countries they are travelling with.”
Both Intrepid and Qantas have expressed concerns about Australia’s quarantine system, labelling the 14-day hotel quarantine requirements for international travel a “demand killer” and an “absolute travel killer”.
However, Tehan said the government is looking to establish more travel bubbles with no quarantine restrictions in place, and South Australia’s home quarantine trial for overseas travellers appears to be progressing well.
NSW will also launch a home quarantine pilot for fully-vaccinated international travellers in Greater Sydney next month.
In the meantime, Tehan said the government has sent its new QR code-based vaccination certificate to Australia’s overseas embassies to make sure it will be accepted for overseas travel.
“What we’ve seen so far in all the reports back is the QR code system… seems to be interoperable with most of the countries that we’ve been dealing with,” he said.
In response to Tehan’s comments, Flight Centre Travel Group managing director James Kavanagh said there was plenty of pent-up travel demand.
“The first day after Qantas’s announcement regarding international flight coming back, we saw a dramatic spike in both bookings and searches – with locations ranging from Los Angeles to Delhi – and over a quarter of these bookings were for business travel,” he said.
Digital travel platform Agoda said it had seen a 20 per cent surge in Australians searching for overseas destinations, and a 12 per cent surge for inbound travel to Australia, since NSW reported it would trial a home quarantine system.
The platform said that Thailand had attracted the most searches from Aussie travellers, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, the US, Fiji, Malaysia, India and the UK.
Tehan encouraged Australians to work together to support the tourism industry until it can be kickstarted both domestically and internationally.
“The quicker we can do that the better and to do that we need everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Wrapping up his interview, the Tourism Minister appealed to states to “stick to the national plan”.
“Our tourism industry is dependant on it. That’s how we learn to live with the virus and that’s how we get our tourism industry back on its feet,” he said.
Featured image source: ABC iView