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'You're Going To Be Left Behind': International Travel Operators' Warning To Australia

"If the federal government doesn't show leadership when it comes to the vaccine rollout, Australia is going to be left behind."

If Australia doesn’t want to be left behind by the rest of the world when it comes to boozing and cruising around the globe, our government needs to give us a plan for breaking the walls of our Hermit Kingdom.

Though we don’t want to unlatch the child locks while we’re still on the highway, travel experts are urging the Australian federal government to provide clearer milestones on what being ready to open up will actually look like, and provide a clearer plan about how we are going to get there.

The big factor that will influence how fast we open up is vaccination rates – both Australia’s and The World At Large’s.

What’s up for question is what being ready means. Does it mean 60% of Australians vaccinated? What about 90%? How does that need to change depending on where the rest of the world is at? At the time of writing Australia has no clear plan – let alone assurance – on this.

Though, to a degree, this is understandable, given these things are constantly subject to change, on the other hand it is surprising to have virtually no clear ‘reward targets’ at all.

 

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Speaking to DMARGE, Brett Mitchell, Managing Director of Melbourne-based adventure travel company – Intrepid Travel – which operates small group trips all around the world, compared Australia’s response to Singapore’s: “We are seeing many other countries implementing a clear roadmap on how to deal with the virus moving forward.”

“At Intrepid Travel we fully back the plan recently put in place by the Singapore government to begin treating this like other endemic diseases and are calling on the [Australian] federal government to show clear leadership by implementing a much more definitive plan than what we have at present.”

This lack of certainty is hurting both individuals and businesses, Mr Mitchell said.

“There is a lot more to travel grief than not knowing when Australians can get on an international flight again.”

“The failure by the Australian government to provide a clear roadmap has left so much uncertainty about even travelling interstate and this is taking a toll on both people and businesses.”

“Knowing that borders are able to close at any given time creates a lot of uncertainty – meaning businesses and local communities are being left hurt, jobs are being lost, and people are unable to see their family members and friends,” he added.

Mr Mitchell is not alone in urging Australian authorities to give us a plan. Chief Customer Officer at Luxury Escapes, Jason Shugg, told DMARGE: “When compared to the rest of the world, there’s no question that Australia has taken a much more restrictive approach to the pandemic with closed borders, lockdowns and strict hotel quarantine.”

“Unfortunately these measures, along with our very slow vaccine roll out have not set us up well for a speedy return to international travel, an issue that our government needs to urgently address.”

“We need to correct the disconnect between ongoing government policy on international tourism and consumer sentiment that there is a strong and growing desire to travel abroad again, particularly after they are vaccinated,” Mr Shugg added.

“This was a huge motivation for us behind launching the vaccine incentive. We want to see more Australians vaccinated and at a faster rate so we can get back to doing what we love, exploring the world. Not only that, but we want to welcome international travellers back to Australia to support our local tourism providers who have done it really tough since the outbreak of the pandemic.”

 

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“In our Travel Trends 2020 report released in December 2019, it was revealed that Australians took more than 6.3 million overseas holidays that year. While it’s unlikely this will happen all at once, we’d love to see that enthusiasm for overseas travel return as soon as possible.”

Intrepid Travel and Luxury Escapes, which have interests both here and abroad, are just two examples. Australia’s whole tourism industry is “pleading with the federal government for a ‘roadmap’ to reopening borders, fearing the nation may be ‘left behind’ as other countries throw open their doors for vaccinated travellers,” The New Daily reports.

“I know it’s politically successful to talk about shutting down borders, but this is not where we want to be at the end of this year,” Dean Long, CEO of the Accommodation Association, told The New Daily.

“At some point, it will be safe to reopen the border. We’re asking, ‘What does that look like?’ It’s a really crucial policy setting.”

As the crickets chirp on that question, the pandemic is changing the face of tour operators around the globe. At Intrepid Travel around 95 per cent of their product range was international before the pandemic and they ran trips in 130 countries. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant as a business they’ve had to do a complete revamp of their business model, with a major focus on local travel.

“Now we have a large Australia and New Zealand offering,” Mr Mitchell told DMARGE, “allowing Australians to experience everything they love about our small group adventures, just closer to home.”

“This includes new walking and cycling adventures, as well as a focus on more First Nations experiences, to allow travellers to learn more about cultures, histories and languages in their own country.”

 

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However, unfortunately, due to a lack of unified approach by our state and federal governments, “snap lockdowns and border closures, even travelling in Australia isn’t easy at the moment,” Mr Mitchell told DMARGE.

“Not only is that frustrating to businesses but Australian travellers as well.”

“Currently we are seeing many countries implementing a plan to live with the virus,” Mr Mitchell also told DMARGE. “The UK is currently leading globally when it comes to vaccination rates with 52.2 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, while Australia is only at 12.1 per cent.”

“If the federal government doesn’t show leadership when it comes to the vaccine rollout, Australia is going to be left behind.”

He continued the overseas comparison: “We have offices in both the US and the UK and thanks to their high vaccination rates, industries, hospitality and travel businesses have been able to grow again and we are seeing some great sales come through as people get moving again.”

“We’re seeing particularly strong growth in the US with domestic travel, which shows that consumers are keen to get back on the road as soon as they’re vaccinated and feel confident doing so. Since March, our sales in the US are up 33 per cent with trips in places like Utah, Maine and Alaska proving really popular with vaccinated American travellers.”

“What we’re seeing in the US shows that there is definitely pent up demand for travel, but the lack of leadership here has really diminished Australia’s confidence when it comes to travel.”

“We hope that a clear roadmap will help give travellers more peace of mind when it comes to booking future trips. As all businesses, we hope to see borders opening up safely next year. However, we know that more Australians need to get vaccinated first and we also need to see more vaccines in other countries around the world, to ensure tourism can reopen safely in other communities, too.”

 

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“We encourage all Australians who are eligible to get vaccinated, and urge the Australian government to open up discussion for allowing freedom of movement for people who are fully vaccinated.”

Looking to the future, Mr Shugg told DMARGE as soon as the pandemic subsides, travel will bounce back hard, due to pent up demand for travel among Australians.

“While international travel may be some time away we are typically seeing far more holidays being booked by our Australian customers now than ever before (state-wide lockdown periods excluded) – while this is mostly short term domestic travel it does show the demand for getting out of the house is still strong.”

 

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“When it comes to pent up demand and international travel, we have over thirteen thousand international bookings for Australian customers without set check in dates and over 7000 bookings with selected travel dates – typically well into 2022 – essentially customers waiting to be able to travel on the holiday they have purchased.”

“The top destinations for these customers are Indonesia, Thailand, Fiji, Maldives and Singapore. We expect once international locations open up for Australian the demand will be huge.”

He also said vaccination rates will be key to achieving this.

“Vaccination will be essential. And once the majority of the population are vaccinated we need the strict measures the government have in place such as border closures and hotel quarantine removed. I think in the first instance we will see more travel bubbles open up between countries with low case numbers like we have seen with New Zealand.”

“It will take a bit of time, but I believe we will return to the level of international travel we saw pre-covid. Our data shows that Aussie’s are keen to get back into it as soon as possible.”

Here’s hoping.

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