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What now for QLD and WA travel? Skroo Turner shares his opinion

On the historic day when Australia's border reopened after 590 days, with the first quarantine-free arrival flights taking off and touching down in Sydney, Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) MD Skroo Turner spoke with ABC Breakfast to share his thoughts on what this now means for the rest of Australia.

On the historic day when Australia’s border reopened after 590 days, with the first quarantine-free arrival flights taking off and touching down in Sydney, Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) MD Skroo Turner spoke with ABC Breakfast to share his thoughts on what this now means for the rest of Australia.

Skroo Turner has been as outspoken as ever in recent weeks, with the FCTG chief recently considering a legal challenge against state and territory border closures if Queensland and Western Australia do not reveal “reasonable” plans to rejoin the nation in coming weeks, citing $100m in business costs a month.

As the nation begins its currently disjointed path back to travel normality due to inconsistencies in state and territory restrictions, it’s clear that achieving a unified “Australia is open” message is still potentially months away.

However, at the company’s recent annual general meeting, FCTG said It is still targeting a return to “monthly profitability” in both corporate and leisure travel sectors later this financial year, helped by a much leaner cost base and a more efficient operating model.

“The exact timing of our return to profitability is uncertain and remains largely in government hands, given that revenue generation opportunities are intrinsically linked to borders re-opening and staying open; and international travel resuming in a more meaningful way globally,” Skroo Turner had said.

Less than two weeks on, Skroo Turner spoke to ABC Breakfast on the day the first steps back to quarantine-free international travel took off. Here’s what he had to say.

How difficult do the current Queensland border restrictions make things?

Lizard Island, Queensland
Lizard Island, Queensland

People generally aren’t going to quarantine on return for two weeks unless they’re absolutely desperate.

There are some stories around that we may be able to do a week’s quarantine, but there’s no international travel coming back without quarantine until the 90% vaccination level is reached.

And that that could take many months. It’s predicted by the government to be reasonably early next year, but I think it depends on how many infections we get.

There’s no doubt that with no infections as it is now, people just aren’t bothered getting vaccinated in particularly in the regional areas.

Where do you see prices going?

Qatar Airways

It will be expensive out of New South Wales and Victoria particularly leading up to Christmas. It is high season in a normal year and so you probably expect the few weeks leading up to Christmas to be relatively expensive.

But the reason the fares up until now have been expensive is that there are very few people being allowed back into the country. Now that will change pretty quickly as the overseas airlines ramp up their capacity and Qantas as well.

Airlines like Qatar, Emirates and United Airlines will ramp up their capacity particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and you’ll see the fares come off. If people look after Christmas, there’ll be a lot of good prices around as there’s a lot of capacity in the market.

But it depends where you want to go to. If you want to go to the UK or Europe or perhaps the states pre Christmas out of places where you can return easily, like those southern states it could be more expensive than people expect. But people need to remember that it is normally peak season anyway.

I know Alan Joyce from Qantas has said the same thing that he expects fares to be pretty competitive, even up to Christmas once the capacity comes in.

What’s your long term forecast?

It’s going to take some time.

We predict we’ll get back to some level of normal sales by June 2024. So still a fair way away.

It’ll come back quickly for those people who really want to travel. Initially, it’s to visit friends and relatives. You heard that this morning (With the first international arrivals in Sydney) with people who haven’t seen each other for a long time.

So that’ll be the first wave, and the travelling wave will tend to come a little bit later once people see what the scenarios are like. But it will come back pretty strongly as soon as the restrictions are relatively easy.

People won’t like to travel if they have to quarantine everywhere they go. They except being fully vaccinated and perhaps a negative PCR test before they leave when they arrive. But having to quarantine is just not something that people will do if It’s not essential or visiting close family.

How do you foresee states changing their mind once they see the rest of Australia opening up?

Lucky Bay, Western Australia
Lucky Bay, Western Australia

I must admit I don’t have a lot of hope for West Australia. But I think Queensland will change.

It’s partly the vaccination rate but there’s quite a bit of inconsistency at the moment and I think once fully vaccinated people can come in from New South Wales and we believe that’ll be at the 80% which will probably be around we believe about the sixth to 10th of December.

At the current rate, there’s a bit of variation in predictions there. I think that the same will apply to overseas people coming back but as long as you’re vaccinated and have had a negative PCR, that’ll probably be around the 10th of December when they change their mind from the current 90% mark.

I think the 90% mark is unrealistic and bear in mind that’s for over 16, so it probably means about 30% of Queenslanders even at 90% are not vaccinated.

So there’s not much difference between that and 80% which is where there’s no doubt the virus is going to spread and we’ve just got to learn to live with it and get back to normal life.