Australia’s ‘wheels and wings’ industry flatlined last year. We scarcely need to explain why: both domestic and international bookings fell off the roof in March. Over the following 12 months, international travel remained (and still remains) off the cards, while domestically the situation has improved (the ‘wheels’ side of things picked up dramatically, in fact).
Now, as of March 2021, we find ourselves in a strange sort of limbo – we’re able to travel domestically (and to watch those overseas in less fortunate COVID-19 related situations travel), yet unable to bounce off abroad ourselves if we please.
Experts remind Australians to be grateful for this. It’s why we are a (relatively) COVID-19 free island paradise. Some worry we risk becoming a hermit kingdom. Amid all this, many wonder what will become of Australia’s business travel scene.
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With overseas experts like Skift editor in chief Tom Lowry and CNN’s Richard Quest debating whether, the global work-from-home revolution in mind, business travel in America will ever return to previous levels, last week DMARGE was inspired to ask what will become of Australia’s business travel scene in 2021 and beyond by a rare Qantas email.
The question came into even sharper focus this week, as we spoke to Rico Merkert, Professor and Chair in Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Sydney (and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Air Transport Management), seeking his take on the future of Australian business travel, as well as his thoughts on Qantas’ announcement that it would be soon trialling the IATA Travel Pass (otherwise known as a health passport).
“The Qantas trial of the IATA Travel Pass is exactly the same initiate Air New Zealand signed up to last week,” Merkert told DMARGE. “Same deal and there are other international airlines trialling it too (e.g. Emirates).”
“It is a global initiative led by IATA and through being able to verify authentication of COVID health records of passengers worldwide, it will give not only passengers but also anyone working in the aviation industry as well as governments confidence that those details (test results, vaccination records etc.) will be accurate.”
“This will allow airlines to resume safe and quarantine free international travel and will hopefully lead to international borders reopening sooner than what would be the case without such a global Travel Pass.”
When it comes to getting international travel started again, Merkert emphasised the importance of The Jab: “Beyond health passports, the key will be to get the vaccination programs implemented/rolled-out as soon as practically possible, both domestically and internationally.”
Merkert also told us, in his view, that health passports will not be a silver bullet for keeping Australian interstate borders open this year, should flare-ups arise.
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“Domestic border closures within Australia are more a political decision and as the IATA Travel pass is limited to air travel passengers, it won’t be able to guarantee safe interstate (road) travel within Australia. It will somewhat help domestic travel, but its focus is on international travel and in particular international air travel, say between two travel bubbles.”
“It will be incredibly effective at large international hubs, such as Singapore or Dubai (where passengers from many nations mingle at high density).”
Flight Centre Australia’s managing director, James Kavanagh told the AFR last year: “We expect business travel to return quicker than leisure travel, but not at the same rate. Companies are busy examining their internal OH&S [occupational health and safety] policies around having staff on the road [in the era of coronavirus].”
On the other side of the coin, Jamie Pherous of Corporate Travel Management told CNBC the company will be a “much bigger business” on the way out of the pandemic because it took advantage of the market and made “very sound strategic acquisitions.”
Bringing the discussion away from ~the industry~ and back to your holiday plans, frequent flyer and owner of Flight Hacks, Immanuel Debeer recently told DMARGE he has faith in Qantas’ proposed October restart date for international travel, expressing hope for international travel at some point in 2021: “Yes I think it’s likely to happen in October. Once all the oldies are vaccinated the Australian government has zero excuse to keep us locked up.”
“The only spanner in the works is the fact that they’ve gone for a ‘zero covid’ approach. So although October is realistic, no doubt there will be a lot of restrictions in place. Doubt they will let tourists come in by then, unless they are from certain ‘green zone’ countries.”
Immanuel also said on Instagram he still has Europe in July (tentatively) booked. A big call but perhaps an inspired one? Only time and ticket sales will tell.