Last week revealed a federal budget that left the outbound travel industry dazed and confused as to why it was omitted from any financial support, nor given any clarity on a plan for when international travel might restart again. In this frank opinion piece, Evolution Travel Collective’s co-founder Pete Rawley asks the question: what’s the plan?
So the Australian federal budget has landed.
The fact that I have used a quote below from an ageing actor means I am hoping this is just some sort of bad movie we are all living through. But unfortunately, for the vast majority of us who rely on international leisure travel, the misery of uncertainty continues.
“Expectation is the mother of all frustration”
Last week I wrote a piece that highlighted some of the challenges facing our industry. The key driver was to agitate for discussion on how we work ‘towards’ a plan to safely re-open our international borders.
The article was well received and I have spent the past week talking to over a hundred people across the industry who are equally frustrated that we have no public discussion around a government-led plan out of this.
The initial budget announcement suggests the federal government believes that domestic travel will ‘save the day’.
The powers that be seem to think that with international borders closed and some increased marketing spend that the billions of dollars usually spent on international travel will all miraculously transfer into domestic.
They are calling on a sense of national pride to support our fellow Australians and ‘see your own back yard’ as the saviour for our travel & tourism industry.
“Let’s keep all the tourism dollars in our country and make Australia great again” appears to be the underlying message here.
Now, the announced funding is absolutely needed for the domestic tourism industry; I don’t dispute that at all.
In fact, I am genuinely excited for our local tour operators who have been equally decimated by the pandemic as well as many who have been significantly impacted by the 2019/2020 summer bush fires.
Personally, I look forward to supporting the local sector over the coming months and exploring a little more of Australia myself.
That said, one key challenge remains for retail travel agents, who seem to be caught in a ‘Malachi Crunch’ of sorts as they are left with limited opportunities to generate significant income until international borders open sometime in 2021/22?
With government-funded vouchers, some operators offering limited commissions and book direct to supplier marketing campaigns, agents I spoke to are feeling redundant within the domestic market and their resilience to ‘hold on’ is being significantly tested.
Unfortunately, all of this suggests that our government are comfortable with travel agents and many suppliers of outbound travel being the ‘collateral damage’ within the sector.
They clearly did not hear the pleading from tens of thousands of employees and many businesses who advised that whilst international borders remain closed, their jobs and businesses will not survive.
As such, we continue to find ourselves asking the same questions over and over and over again.
- What are we trying to achieve to see us safely re-open the international border, and how do we get there?
- Are bi-lateral travel bubbles a serious consideration and if so, what guidelines are required for them to be implemented?
- Why do countries such as Greece, Singapore, Vietnam, etc.… say they would welcome Australian tourists, but our government detains us indefinitely?
- Why aren’t rapid testing protocols being talked about by our government?
- Why are we not investing in the best possible contact tracing technology and processes?
- What protocols could we implement that allows us to travel internationally again before a vaccine if freely available?
- Why are we sitting on our hands and waiting for a vaccine when the rest of the world is moving towards outcomes that recognise and understand we will all be ‘living with this virus’ for years and years to come.
What’s the plan?
The travel industry is already leading the way in proactively developing ways on how we can safely re-open the international borders.
Recent thought leadership from airlines & cruise lines introducing rapid testing processes, collaborative marketing campaigns by our industry associations with sympathetic media and the inclusion of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) safe travel protocols by many ground operators are examples of how our industry is driving the ongoing campaign for solution-based thinking of a plan.
It is imperative we continue to come ‘Together in travel’ and deliver strategies that collectively shine a light on our beloved industry to expedite these much-needed answers from our federal government.
*I would like to acknowledge the on-going lobbying of AFTA to secure a government support package for the industry and I, like many others within the industry, remain hopeful of a successful outcome.
However, the recent commentary from government ministers that our international borders will largely remain closed in the hope of an effective vaccine in late 2021 is just not viable for many within our industry.
Put simply, hope is not a strategy.
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