The ongoing international border closure situation is a saga, to say the least. Families have been separated for 15 months and a $4 trillion loss is forecast due to the impact of the pandemic on tourism. Things desperately need to change by the end of the year, Chad Carey explains why.
Clearly, everyone in the travel industry is frustrated by the Federal Government’s absence of anything even remotely resembling a plan for the resumption of international travel. And it’s not just the travel industry that’s becoming increasingly incensed.
Universities have for some time been crying out for international students to be allowed to return, and more numerous business groups have been warning of the dire consequences around skills shortages if Australian businesses cannot easily hire skilled workers from abroad.
On top of all of this is the more emotive but undoubtedly more important human element. More than 50% of Australians either being born overseas or having parents born overseas, most Australians have essentially been cut off from loved ones overseas now for over 15 months.
That’s 15 months of parents seeing children, grandparents being unable to see grandchildren and in many cases, even spouses not being able to see each other.
Over a tortuous 15 months, many family situations have changed. Grandparents have become frailer (or often passed due to COVID-19 related illness) and many others have had life-changing events which have had to pass without the face-to-face support of Australian-based family members.
Clearly, the pandemic is still raging overseas, and no one is advocating for an instant reopening of borders right now. At the same time, a lot has been learnt about vaccine efficacy in the last six months. Clarity around vaccine accessibility has also become much clearer to Australians in recent weeks too.
Recent forecasts released by the Federal Government show that we’ll have more than enough doses to vaccinate every Australian with two doses before the end of the year.
Other countries such as the UK, France and Thailand (and most other European countries to boot) have sensibly looked at the vaccine forecasts in tandem with the growing body of efficacy data and set targets for reopening borders.
This doesn’t mean that all targets are being met, and as we’ve seen in the UK recently, complications associated with the delta variant have pushed back reopening plans by a month. But at least they try their best to provide some plan for businesses and families.
But what does this all mean for Australia and how can we help our seeming lethargic fellow Australians (and thereby the Australian Government) change their mindset towards setting a goal for reopening borders?
I think Christmas is a key opportunity for all of us.
As mentioned above, by that point, we’ll have received enough doses for every Australian to be fully vaccinated. By this point, the government itself has conceded that it may need vaccine-related incentives to encourage any vaccine-hesitant citizens to roll up their sleeves and get the jab.
What better incentive than the possibility of international travel? Isn’t everyone in need of a beach break to Fiji or Hawaii right now?
But more importantly, by that point, many Australians will have been denied the opportunity to see their overseas family for almost two years. With high vaccination rates by that point in both Australia and many other countries, surely there will become intense pressure to allow families to unite for Christmas.
It doesn’t mean that travel needs to be open to all countries, but if both Australia and the destination country have high vaccination rates, what possible logic is there to prevent travel from recommencing between those two countries?
I realise that not all Australians celebrate Christmas but in the 2016 census, over 86% of Australians still identified as some form of Christian denomination. Christmas is still overwhelmingly the most important family day for most Australians.
AFTA and CATO have been right to tread carefully in dealings with the Federal Government. It wouldn’t have been prudent before now to poke the bear and risk ongoing travel sector support because of aggressive campaigns against the government. That needn’t be the case now, either.
For me, the day the Federal Government is not our enemy, public opinion is. To support the opening of borders, all we really need to do is change the majority of Australian’s views around the risks associated with opening international borders. This couldn’t be more important in an election year.
Christmas is our opportunity and as the travel industry, we need to unite with others to drive the message.
Let’s combine our efforts with universities, business groups, and families advocates to push a simple message to the Australian public: Isn’t it amazing that Australia and many other countries will be close to being fully vaccinated by Christmas now? Let’s reopen borders and allow families to reunite!
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