- The latest budget outlook assumes COVID-19-induced travel restrictions to get gradually lifted between January 2021 and June 2021.
- While, Australian PM has indicated that there is no plan at the moment to allow overseas travel until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.
- JobKeeper extension, reopening of Tasmania’s border and accelerating virtual tour experiences are offering flickers of hope for the revival of travel industry.
- Risk lingers on further lockdown restrictions if the second wave of infections is not contained in Victoria.
While international travel bans and stringent lockdown measures helped Australia contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic initially, these actions sparked an unprecedented crisis in the travel industry, triggering widespread job and revenue losses. Even though the Australian travel industry is not yet out of the woods, certain trends are driving the shape of industry in the post-COVID era.
The latest budget outlook unveiled by the Federal Government assumes coronavirus-induced travel restrictions to get gradually lifted between January 2021 and June 2021, but with a two-week mandatory quarantine. While, easing border restrictions are expected to resume arrivals by permanent and temporary migrants at lower levels than normal.
Despite budget outlook pointing to border reopening in early 2021, Australian Prime Minister Mr Scott Morrison recently indicated that there is no plan at the moment to allow overseas travel until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. Mr Morrison’s statement has inflicted a wave of uncertainty around the future of overseas travel.
However, there is still a flicker of hope for the nation’s travel industry to land back on its feet, as evident from the following developments:
JobKeeper Extension – A Knight in Shining Armour
In order to support not-for-profit organisations and businesses that are bearing the brunt of coronavirus pandemic, the Australian Government has recently decided to extend the existing JobKeeper Payment (due to expire in September 2020) by an additional six months to March 2021.
The decision has emerged as a triumph for the travel and tourism industry that has been vigorously lobbying the Government for the JobKeeper extension. Early this month, Virgin Australia Holdings Limited (ASX:VAH) and some other ground handling and catering firms penned an open letter to Mr Morrison urging the extension of wage subsidy scheme beyond September.
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents witnesses the extension of scheme as a lifeline to tourism businesses, which may have otherwise shut their doors for good, leaving a number of people jobless. Besides, the Tourism & Transport Forum has also welcomed JobKeeper extension, labeling it as a move that will enable the tourism industry to survive and offer more time to revitalise from the virus crisis.
Reopening of Tasmania’s Border: A Sigh of Relief
Months after introducing strict border restrictions in March 2020, Tasmania is set to commence lifting of border barriers for some Australian states. The Tasmanian Government has declared ‘safe travel bubbles’ between Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory from 7th August 2020.
As per Premier of Tasmania Mr Peter Gutwein, the decision on whether to open border restrictions with New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory will be taken on 14th August 2020. He has also stated that the possibility of trans-Tasman travel bubble with Kiwi Land remains on the table.
While high hopes are attached to trans-Tasman travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia, the NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s latest statement over prioritising travel arrangements with other nations before Australia can put the much-awaited travel bubble on hold. Mounting coronavirus cases in Victoria has turned the tide away from Australia, prompting Ms Ardern to explore border reopening with the Cook Islands.
Virtual Tourism: A Silver Lining in Dark COVID-19 Cloud
At the time when several people are eagerly waiting for the resumption of air travel to breathe life in international travel destinations, tourism boards are leaving no stone unturned in keeping hungry travelers well-fed. To present a sense of adventure to travel lovers, tourism players are bringing virtual travel experiences into the living rooms of travel hungry souls to retain consumers’ interest.
In May this year, Tourism Australia introduced a free online program of virtual travel entertainment and experiences for travel enthusiasts. A jam-packed program, Live from Aus, was launched by Tourism Australia to enable travelers experience unique and iconic destinations across the country and states besides underwater adventure.
Likewise, Tourism Western Australia also came up with a 13-day virtual adventure tour in April this year, sharing about 360 videos of incredible places and activities across the state to keep travel lovers engaged amid social distancing restrictions.
Even though there is a long way off for travel industry to recoup to pre-pandemic levels, these developments, including an upsurge in domestic travel and hotel bookings over the last few months, are heralding signs of revitalisation in the battered journey business. However, the emerging second wave of infections in Victoria is looming fears of further lockdown restrictions that can act as a stumbling block in industry’s path to revival.
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