In this important opinion piece, Melbourne based Pete Rawley asks the question we all want to know the answer to: ‘Why do we still have no plan from the government to work towards reopening our international borders?’
It’s now the end of September 2020 and the travel industry within Australia remains completely obliterated by COVID-19.
We were one of the very first industries to feel the impact of the virus way back in January, and unfortunately, we will be one of the very last to recover.
Devastatingly, thousands of employees and businesses will not come out of it – they have lost everything.
For those of us still hanging on by our fingernails to ‘survive’ it’s not a particularly enjoyable daily process as we try and function in a landscape of uncertainty, change and frustration, longing for the days when we were passionately committed to delivering wonderful global travel experiences for our customers.
Unfortunately, for the international leisure sector of our industry, the Australian government decided to close our international borders back in March. This was done to help safeguard the health and well-being of the Australian people. Most recently the border closure was extended until mid-December 2020 (which is as far as their powers allow), but it’s still unknown how much further this could be extended into 2021.
“Nothing in the world causes so much misery than uncertainty.”
Martin Luther King
At the time of writing this article, Australia was the only country to have a policy that does not allow its citizens to leave without a special exemption.
Thousands of Australians are caught in horrible situations and can’t leave Australia; even if they are not planning to return, have family in heartbreaking situations overseas, terminally ill or other instances where being with loved ones at this time is crucially important.
Exemption applications are also made with the understanding that people are willing to meet any criteria set out by the government in terms of hotel quarantine upon return, testing, tracing, etc.
However, if recent media reports are to be believed, over 100,000+ Australians have applied for an exemption to leave, with approximately just one third being granted. The only reason the government has given thus far is a ‘catch-all’ statement that we don’t have the ability to handle quarantine numbers upon their eventual return.
So with all of this in mind, one key question remains – what’s the plan?
We were originally told it was to flatten the curve. This has been achieved in all states and territories and is well underway in Victoria as we speak. Done.
We were then advised that it was to suppress the case numbers to support our health system capability. Done.
Next our focus was turned towards getting community transmission numbers down to minimal and manageable numbers. Done.
We continue to be told it is not about eradication. Ok.
So, why are our international borders closed indefinitely? We assume we must be waiting for a vaccine.
Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy has previously stated “To fully open the international border without any quarantining or any restrictions probably will require a vaccine to be able to adequately protect vulnerable people in the community and if we get enough vaccine to develop sufficient herd immunity”.
Even this has mixed messages, not only about WHAT we are trying to achieve but on HOW we can achieve it.
At very best this is – frustrating. At worst – completely lacking any direction or semblance of a plan.
The reason why all of us within the travel industry needs clarity on this is that once we understand ‘what’ we are trying to achieve we can start planning for it.
Hundreds of senior managers across our industry are trying to work out what re-structure, resources and costs will look like for a return to business strategy.
Add to that the current ‘guesstimate’ being undertaken in terms of revenue projections and it’s a brave (or silly) person who puts their name to any sort of guarantee at board level.
Living in a world of uncertainty for the tens of thousands of Australians who work within the international travel sector is incredibly distressing, to say the least.
Unfortunately, due to this, the vast majority of attention is squarely on survival mode off the back of those lucky enough to qualify for government handouts.
That said, we would much rather get back to work and stand on our own two feet than hope for more handouts via Job Keeper or government grants. As we know, eventually those will stop and when that happens – then what?
Right now, we simply can’t plan for our industry’s future in the current situation.
So, the questions to our government continue to grow.
What are we trying to achieve to see us safely re-open the international border and how do we get there?
What solution-based thinking should we be encouraging?
Why aren’t rapid testing protocols being talked about by our government?
What guidelines will suppliers need to implement?
What advice will travel agents be required to advise customers should they choose to travel?
What role will insurance companies and their COVID policies need to play in all of this?
These questions continue to be asked, but the conversation is not being had publicly.
Waiting for a vaccine that may or may not come is not a viable option for many of us within the international travel industry.
We don’t dispute the need to prioritise the safety of Australians and that could (and perhaps should) mean travel bubbles and not just opening borders without due consideration.
With all that said, surely there are other measures we can explore and safely put in place before a vaccine arrives.
So, let’s open up the discussion and work towards intelligent solutions, not remain living in the miserable world of uncertainty.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at [email protected]
Share this story