International travel is a priority for many Australians, but much is unknown about how it works, which has prompted passengers and the aviation industry to seek clarification from the federal government.
- Aviation industry wants answers on how and when Australia’s international borders will be reopened
- Experts say national plan is too vague and fear some states will not follow it
- Abolition of quarantine considered crucial to encourage inbound tourism
Gill Harris is one of many Australians who have been separated from their families abroad for almost two years due to travel bans.
Meanwhile, Ms Harris and her partner have missed out on celebrating important birthdays with their British family, twice postponed their wedding and had a baby.
“We would have liked them to meet our son. We talk to Grandma every day. She doesn’t want to miss anything and she is in desperate need of a hug if we can get home for Christmas,” he said. she declared.
Ms Harris booked tickets to London with Qantas on December 19. But while airlines sell tickets, there is no guarantee that Australia’s international borders will be opened in time.
“It’s quite stressful, really. We would just like some certainty from the government,” she said.
Airlines call for answers
According to the national plan, when 80% of Australians are doubly vaccinated, there will be a “gradual reopening of inbound and outbound international travel with safe countries,” as well as “proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travelers. “.
Last week Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said he hoped international borders would reopen by Christmas “at the latest”.
But while airlines like Qantas have been optimistic about selling tickets to London, the United States, Singapore, Japan and Canada starting in mid-December, others in the aviation industry are on the move. worried about the timing and the lack of clarity on how the reopening will work.
The Board of Airlines Representatives Australia (BARA) said airports currently lack the resources to handle additional international flights and that there has been limited engagement with industry on the part of governments at all levels on how to plan for an increase in services.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 82 percent of the world’s airlines, has warned that some carriers may choose to fly elsewhere if uncertainty persists.
Before the pandemic, 52 airlines flew to Australia, but there are now only 18.
Singapore Airlines canceled additional flights in December to Australia due to lingering uncertainty around the Australia travel bubble mentioned in the national plan.
“It is not clear whether international arrival caps will continue to be in place in December, and whether or not, or how, incoming passengers will be treated and classified by the government,” said Karl Schubert, of the South Pacific -Where is. public relations manager at Singapore Airlines.
Singapore Airlines is operating at 9% capacity due to passenger caps. Like other airlines, it covered the cost of flying nearly empty planes with air freight.
“We have around 600 empty places per day [to Sydney] which can be refilled with the push of a switch. So at the end of the day, we’re certainly looking forward to getting that clarity from the government so that we can bring more Australians home and be able to reconnect families much sooner. “
Cathay Pacific chief executive in the South West Pacific, Rakesh Raicar, said Australia is an important market for the airline, but added more clarity is needed to measure demand and plan for services. additional.
Mr. Raicar also wants a coherent approach of all states to be necessary when reopening international borders.
It’s unlikely. Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania all suggest they will not open their borders until a 90% vaccination target is met.
Quarantine measures likely to slow down demand
Quarantine is another big issue that will affect the demand for overseas travel. So far, only South Australia and New South Wales have committed to testing the home quarantine.
Although she is sadly missed by her family, Ms Harris will cancel her family’s trip to the UK if she has to quarantine herself at a hotel on her return.
“We just don’t think having Harry, who will then be 10 months old, in a hotel for two weeks work,” she said.
Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom do not require fully vaccinated travelers to be quarantined. Instead, passengers must have tested negative for COVID-19 72 hours before arrival.
Mr Goh said any requirement for passengers to self-quarantine upon arrival would deter tourists from visiting Australia.
“Being in midlife is the one thing that keeps many people from thinking about traveling especially for leisure but also for business,” he said.
“Parts of Europe and the United States are already taking off quite well because no quarantine is required. “
Passengers suffer a “brutal shock”
Aviation commentator Geoff Thomas, of Airlineseratings.com, criticizes the federal government’s handling of reopening international borders.
“Because right now there is confusion, it is very worrying, especially when you look at the record of the vaccine deployment, which has been a complete mess. I am afraid that the opening of the international border not be a similar mess, ”he said. noted.
Mr Thomas expects only a few travel lanes to reopen – such as New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Then there is the issue of verification of vaccine certification. The federal government is paying Accenture about $ 75 million to develop a digital passport declaration (DBD). IATA is also working on an application for a vaccination passport that would provide verification throughout the trip.
Some vaccines may not be recognized by different countries. For example, at the moment, the United States does not recognize AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria). Rather, passengers must have had Pfizer or Moderna.
In addition to these considerations, aviation analyst Neil Hansford said passengers should be wary of stopovers in countries with questionable COVID-19 vaccination standards.
Mr Hansford is currently a consultant on the launch of a North Pacific airline and expects new travel destinations in the region to open up to Australians.
“No Australian is going to want to go to a country where people are not already doubly vaxxed, and which had a good record in COVID with only a minimal count. You have Pacific island nations that have had zero or two deaths, ” he said.
International travel far for many
It’s also unclear whether Australia will recognize vaccines like Sinovac, which has been used extensively in countries like China, Indonesia, Thailand and Brazil.
Mingming Chen, an academic at Curtin University, said blocking Chinese tourism would hurt Australia’s tourism sector.
Before the pandemic, the majority of our inbound international tourists came from China, spending $ 12.4 billion in 2019.
The closure of Australia’s borders means Mr Chen, his wife and their newborn daughter have been prevented from seeing their families in China.
Like Ms. Harris, they used video calls to keep in touch with their parents overseas.
“It actually created emotional stress for our whole family,” he said.
Analysts expect air fares to remain competitive
Among the good news, analysts don’t expect airfares to stay at inflated prices.
The cheapest round-trip ticket from Sydney to London in mid-January is $ 2,066, while Sydney to Los Angeles will cost $ 1,420 and Sydney to Singapore will cost you just $ 1,068, according to the comparison site. of Skyscanner prices.
Mr Thomas said that with so many unknowns, airlines have no choice but to entice travelers with great fares.
“This has been the experience abroad. And I think it will be the experience in Australia,” he said.
The ABC has contacted the office of Tourism Minister Dan Tehan to request an interview.