Eighteen months this week since Australia’s international border closed and unrestricted departures and arrivals were banned, frustration and anxiety have peaked as the travel industry and the nation still waits for a confirmed reopening plan. We need an end date to all of this. Here’s why.
The last fortnight has seen a wave of welcome news to aid the inception of what feels like a delayed push-back from the gate and taxiing back onto the runway of outbound and inbound international travel for Australia.
Just in time for Christmas, airlines including Qantas, Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, Qatar Airways and Fiji Airways have boldly announced bookable schedules departing and arriving in Australia from mid-December.
There are extended home quarantine trials taking place in South Australia and soon New South Wales with the aim of allowing many of the estimated 45,000 registered stranded Australians to get home by Christmas and quarantine at home for reduced periods.
NSW premier Gladys Berjiklian announced on Friday a seven-day home quarantine pilot program, to start later this month.
“We are looking forward to welcoming many people back home soon. We can get there this year,” said Scott Morrison recently.
Overseas, the UK and the U.S. have scrapped quarantine on all arrivals, limiting COVID-testing and ditching traffic light systems and vaccine passports to make inbound and outbound travel more manageable while helping the travel industry to scale up operations again.
Speaking to colleagues in London and Los Angeles, they told me that their industry response has been received “like celebrating the end of a war,” at finally being able to plan ahead with certainty, albeit with some trepidation in the short term.
In Europe, the arrival revival is likewise reflected as the continent cautiously reconnects and begins to reopen to the region and the world while swiftly learning to live with and adapt to the virus.
While all of this is naturally, not without its ongoing issues to solve as an evolving, virgin landscape, onwards and upwards is definitely the mantra in moving ahead for the world’s north when it comes to restarting travel.
Backing the New South Wales home quarantine push, our very own Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said last Friday “Australia must reopen. We must get rid of lockdowns, we must get rid of home quarantine, we must re-engage with the world.”
Cheers to that Mr Ayres.
What does all this mean for us?
The net result of these recent ‘good vibrations‘ for us is that pent up demand has been positively stirred up, enquiry is emerging, and we are daring to dream again at what could be by the end of the year.
Is what’s happening in the Northern Hemisphere then, all a sign of things to come for us? Hopefully.
Let’s face it, after 18 months of being denied the choice to leave, and with over half the nation still in lockdown and so many unable to travel outside their own LGA, let alone intra or inter-state, all of us need something positive to hold onto.
Except for good reason, we’re not convinced.
Because once again, here comes that stomach-churning, deflating feeling of still having no confirmation from the federal government as to an actual start date when the international border will or could reopen, nor any kind of public plan or roadmap for how we might get there.
Right now, we don’t even know when Australia’s state borders will universally reopen or what domestic travelling will look like concerning vaccination passports and the (in?)consistency of restrictions and who can do what, when and where.
Instead, every day down here in our sobering but aptly named “Hermit Kingdom”, we energetically promote the cause and jab-step a little closer to our fully vaccinated national target of 80%, which is estimated to happen around mid-November.
Nothing much else matters frankly, as our immediate future and ticket in and out of here hinge on the race to crack the ‘080’ vaccination code and unlock our exit from lockdown to freedom and beyond.
As a defined goal of our phased national pathway announced in early July, hitting the 80% target would trigger phase four and a “complete return to normal with no lockdowns or border closures, and quarantine only for unvaccinated travellers.”
At the time of writing, 47.7 per cent of the population over 16 has had two doses and 72.8 per cent has had one dose of a TGA approved vaccine.
Will the travel industry be ready when the start gun does go off?
The real challenge now is that if we assume we hit the 80% vaccination target in mid-November, how will the travel industry possibly scale up operations and the supply chain to meet this end of year deadline?
How can airlines restart confidently and speedily with fleets of aircraft still parked up worldwide, staff stood down and no plan to work towards increasing the current arrival caps in place?
It was only last week that Singapore Airlines blamed a lack of Australian government clarity about international travel on a decision to scrap dozens of pre-Christmas flights. Can you really blame them?
“What we need to do is get airlines, airports, governments at state and federal level around the same table to talk about how Australia is going to reopen,” said Karl Schubert from Singapore Airlines speaking to the ABC.
How will the nations gateway Airports, which still have a ridiculous amount of complexity and new process to work through, establish safe green and red zones for the arrival and departure process?
What about dealing with potential testing at scale, and which airlines will fly from where to which gates and at what frequency?
And then there’s the considerable shortage of re-staffing or employment confidence across the entire industry to factor in as well as credit and refunds for travel advisors and tour companies to sort out and rebook at now 2022, 2023, and beyond prices.
Add in an already shortage of product inventory for 2022/23 and vaccine, visa and insurance clarity for what countries we will be able to travel to and plenty more we haven’t even realised yet and it’s a minefield on every level.
And let’s not forget the purposely long-ignored political ‘hot potato’, the cruise industry which remarkably still has no clarity or plan for the resumption of operations domestically in Australia and New Zealand, let alone setting sail for anywhere else.
Speaking about their Ready, Set, Sail campaign, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said recently “Australia is the only major cruise destination in the world where governments have made no progress towards a responsible resumption of cruising, despite months of discussions and the availability of stringent new health protocols in response to COVID-19.”
Just today, P&O and Princess put back their domestic cruise schedules again, to January 2022.
Talk about a holding pattern. And these are just to politely name but a mere few of the industry’s multiple issues to solve in a vastly reduced space of time.
It’s as if the federal government believes a button can be pressed, and our AU$60* billion a year travel and tourism industry will all magically click back into gear.
If not now, when?
What is a fact is that the pandemic is far from over and it will take a long time yet to recover and reunite the world while safely vaccinating as we go and responsibly moving on from the tragic human, and economic devastation caused.
So when will Australia formally reemerge in the world as a dynamic, connected international nation learning to live with the virus, just like everyone else?
Christmas is the annual pivotal time in Australia when families and loved ones ritually travel to be together with each other the world over.
Given Christmas 2020 was cancelled for obvious reasons, is the federal government ready to wear the backlash again of denying people the opportunity to reconnect if it doesn’t happen this year?
In the recent and rather ironic words of PM Scott Morrison, “It’s tough living through a pandemic and being separated from your family and that’s brought its own heartbreak, life’s moments missed that you will never get back.”
Life is short. Time is precious and combined with our health, is all we really have.
All of Australia needs to know the date now to start planning to reconnect our lives here and wherever we want and need to be in the world.
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