Dreaming of jumping on an international flight soon? Australians will have to be patient. (ABC News: Dean Faulkner)
Travel is one of the backbones of Australian life — whether you routinely hit the ski slopes over winter, take the boat off the coast or go camping in the nearest national park.
The Federal Government and health authorities have applauded Australians for giving up that luxury in a bid to save lives and slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
For the past month, international and state borders have been closed, and even a short drive to go camping is against the rules.
Instead, families were advised to pitch a tent in the backyard over Easter.
When can I take my next trip?
International travel will be off the table for the foreseeable future.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said international travel restrictions had “played a key role and will continue to play a key role” in keeping Australians safe from COVID-19.
The vast majority of infections in this country have come from overseas travellers, including hundreds of positive cases and 19 deaths among passengers of the Ruby Princess cruise ship.
“This is a time where, unfortunately, people can’t undertake holidays and they won’t be able to go overseas for some time to come,” Senator Birmingham said.
Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway agreed, saying international holidays were a risk.
“New Zealand is probably going to be the most attractive and most likely the [first] international destination to open up for Australia over the medium term,” he said.
“We’re obviously close but there’s some good quarantine and customs arrangements in place and you’d think just with some health management over the top, that market could probably open up more quickly.
“You can’t see how the US or Europe is going to open up within the next year, to be honest.”
But Flight Centre boss Graham Turner said he expected international travel to resume in three to five months.
“The consensus generally, and we had a good look at this, is August, September, October before there’s a significant amount of international travel,” he said.
What about travel within Australia?
Senator Birmingham said interstate borders could open up at “a slightly earlier point in time”.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
“This is a good time for a bit of dreaming, planning, thinking about the Aussie break that you might take when we finally get to the other side of this.”
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Tourism Australia managing director Pip Harrison said it was “highly likely” domestic travel restrictions would lift before international.
“The process is likely to be gradual,” she said.
“So our focus will most likely start with domestic travel; we’ll be strongly encouraging Australians to holiday at home.”
Mr Westaway said domestic travel could reopen by Christmas, but Mr Turner predicted travel within Australia to start again in late May and “pick up during June” depending on what border closures remained in place.
Domestic locations, like the Blue Mountains in NSW, are a more likely destination in the medium term. (ABC News: Emma Machan)
Should I be looking to book a holiday now?
Senator Birmingham said he would not give “any guarantees” Australians would be able to take an overseas holiday by Christmas.
Mr Westaway agreed, saying international holidays were not worth booking at this stage, despite attractive deals being offered.
“There’s a lot of cruise deals in 2021, but there’s some big ifs around that. There’s no guarantee the Australian market is going to be open to let Australians out,” he said.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
“[But] if it’s a domestic travel deal, people should have their eyes wide open.
“If you’re looking to buy towards the end of the year, I think you could buy with some level of confidence.
“You do sense the veil will be lifted in most parts of Australia during the course of this year. We’re keen to see people get going again as long as it can be done in a safe way.”
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury said people should be positive about taking a cruise in the future.
“The ships did not catch COVID-19, the people on board did and once this virus is resolved it is disingenuous to suggest that a cruise ship offers any different risk in the future than it did before COVID-19,” he said.
But it’s buyer beware. The Insurance Council of Australia warns insurance companies are yet to investigate how future holidays will be covered during the pandemic.
What will holidays look like in the future?
Many Australians might turn to drive tourism to avoid air travel. (ABC Open: Janine Anderson)
Once travel restrictions ease, industry figures expect many to return to the great Australian road trip.
Mr Westaway predicted more people would avoid air travel.
“I think drive tourism is going to kick off,” he said.
“The caravanning industry, I know, are planning for some pretty big take-ups of vans.
“I think we’re going to see a bit of a change — like back in the ’80s — we’ll see a return to that type of travel.”
But Mr Turner said the number of people taking up air travel would return, predicting domestic travel would reach about 80 per cent of what it was pre-coronavirus by Christmas and international travel would hit that mark in 12 months.
Will there be a rush to book holidays?
Domestic locations, such as Uluru, are likely to see a lot of tourists. (ABC audience contributor Eleni Curry)
The Australian Tourism Industry Council said a bottleneck of bookings was unlikely, given Australia’s economy would struggle while unemployment rates were high.
“There will be green shoots and they could shoot quite quickly,” Mr Westaway said.
“It’ll be for people that have the ability to do it — so retirees, people that are financially well-off and have got a propensity to do so and do really want to travel.”
But he said many who lose work may not be in a position to travel until they get back on their feet.
“You’re obviously going to see households with an unemployed breadwinner unable to travel,” he said.
Those that do venture out will find destinations waiting for them.
Mr Westaway said the industry bounced back strongly from the summer bushfires across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, before getting hit by the pandemic.
He expects the tourism industry to do so again once coronavirus restrictions ease.
Mr Westbury said there may not be a mad rush for Australians to holiday at home, as many will cast their eye to an overseas adventure as soon as they can.
“Australians have an adventurous spirit and while some might think that the minute travel bans are lifted we might all think to holiday at home, I suspect the very opposite is likely to happen,” he said.
“Of course all that depends on if people have a job, have annual leave and have the money to take the holiday in the first place.”