The travel industry came to a screeching halt early this year. The only words that have offered travellers much hope since March are the following: travel bubble. From talk of a Trans-Tasman agreement with New Zealand to a Trans-Pacific bubble with these idyllic islands, not to mention the invitation extended by Greece, Australia had its pick of half the world – or so it appeared.
Unfortunately, despite the various invitations and proposals, Qantas’ decision to scrap international flights (except New Zealand) until late October, and comments made by the head of Australia’s largest travel company have recently brought optimistic travellers’ ambitions back down to earth.
“With Australia’s borders set to remain closed for some time, we have cancelled most international flights until late October,” a Qantas spokesperson said in a statement.
“We still have some flights scheduled across the Tasman in the coming months, with the expected travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.”
View this post on Instagram
As Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner told Today, “Things can’t get much worse [but] maybe that’s the way we have got to look at it,” talking about the new situation, which DMARGE understands will likely involve domestic trips, plus a travel bubble with New Zealand, as Aussie leisure travellers’ only options for the remainder of this year.
He also said: “It is pretty tough for travel and tourism, it really depends on more bilateral arrangements with the international flights.”
“I think Qantas has made the decision that probably there is not going to be a lot of bilaterals agreed in terms of travel to and from until probably the end of September.”
That said, Qantas has signalled more flights could resume if things change: “Should travel between Australia and other countries open up and demand returns, we can add more flights back into our schedule,” a statement from Australia’s flagship carrier read.
As for the coming months, Mr Turner said the future of Australia’s travel industry would remain uncertain: “It’s bad enough now and the numbers of jobs, people on standby everywhere, but it is only going to get worse.”
“Particularly most people are predicting October/November is when everything really hits home.”
“I don’t think the predictions, particularly the Government’s, I don’t think they understand how bad it is,” Mr Turner added.
The upshot? Previously it was thought our only chance for international travel this year would be bilateral agreements between countries or a vaccine for The Virus.
This remains the case. However, given Mr Turners’ comments, Qantas’ cancellation of flights and the following comments by Morrison government Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, any bilateral agreements that would actually be acted on, beyond New Zealand, look increasingly unlikely to occur.
When the National Press Club pressed Senator Birmingham on this, he suggested it is more likely than not Australians will be banned from overseas travel for leisure until 2021.
“I hope that we can look eventually at some of those countries who have similar successes in suppressing the spread of COVID to Australia and New Zealand, and in working … with those countries,” he said.
“But I do, sadly, think that in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off, just because of the practicalities of the volumes that are involved and the need for us to first and foremost keep putting health first.”
Asked if he was really talking about a travel ban until 2021, Senator Birmingham replied: “Honestly, I think that is more likely the case.”