It won’t be long until Australians are packing up their travel bags again and heading interstate, but industry experts are warning against planning any big trips just yet.
With a roadmap for easing coronavirus restrictions laid out, Australians will soon be able to enjoy weekends away in regional towns and strolls along beaches they don’t live close to.
International travel is off the table for some time to come, but by the end of May, some domestic travel will be allowed, subject of course to Australia’s COVID-19 case numbers.
The first stage of the three-step plan announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison will allow Australians to travel within their own state or territory – to local and regional areas. It will be up to individual states and territories as to when to implement this.
In step two, some interstate travel will be considered depending on the case numbers in each state and territory.
By step three, the government is hoping we’ll be spending our holidays snorkelling in Queensland, respectfully observing Uluru, and drinking pinot in Hobart.
“In step three, we are hopeful that there will be more travel around the country and we might start to get some domestic tourism again,” Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said.
But any interstate travel will depend on how quickly we can sadely relax border restrictions.
“It’s really important that we get domestic travel restarted as soon as possible and we’ll certainly be strongly encouraging Australians to holiday at home as soon it is safe to do so,” a spokesman for Tourism Australia told The New Daily.
Interstate travel is certainly where we want to get to, but it will be heavily dependent on how quickly the states and territories are able to harmonise border restrictions.
“Realistically, the restart and recovery of domestic travel is going to be a progressive journey, starting first with day trips and intrastate travel.”
In 2019, two-thirds of the 79.1 million domestic overnight trips recorded were taken in Australians’ home states, Tourism Australia figures show.
Day trips alone pumped more than $26 billion into the economy.
But the industry has been ravaged by a horrific bushfire season, and now a pandemic.
With planes grounded and borders closed, tourism has been one of Australia’s worst-hit industries for job losses, and the pain is expected to continue.
From Port Douglas, a central point for tourists visiting the Daintree, to the ski town of Jindabyne in NSW and Victoria’s Otway region, tourism businesses have been forced to lay off staff.
Although Australians will soon be able to splash some cash into these areas, social distancing measures mean travelling will look a little different.
There will be fewer people per square metre on a tour, at attractions and in shops, for example.
Chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council Daniel Gschwind said there would be changes to how people travel, but that the domestic tourism industry was not just ready for customers to return, it needed it.
“Of course it will be gradual, some of our operations will not be able to function, the theme parks and zoos,” he said.
But at least for the school holidays, we will have the possibility of going on a holiday and that is very important to our sector.”
Mr Gschwind said the QTIC was working with accommodation providers, transport operators, restaurants and cafes to make sure they implemented a smooth process to deal with tourists while maintaining social distancing.
Normally, Australians spend $50 billion dollars on overseas holidays a year and Mr Gschwind is hoping those who are used to spending their money overseas will give domestic travel a go.
You couldn’t make up a worse disaster story for our industry than what we’ve seen over the last 12 months,” he said.
“Every year there are about six million Australians travelling overseas just for their holidays, so a big number of us go overseas – but they won’t be going anytime soon.
“We’re hoping those six million Australians will give the Australian product a go and consider a domestic holiday.
This is an opportunity. It’s quality and its value for money.”
Duncan Watts, who co-owns Captain’s at the Bay in the Otway Ranges said although they are ready to welcome travellers, it will be a long time before they bounce back.
“We depend a lot on overseas visitors, and that might not happen until the next calendar year. So we’ve got a long way to go.
I think to be blunt, I don’t think the locals will pay the money to be honest.
“I realise people are short of money so basically we may have to pull some things, for instance not offering breakfast, we might have to drop that.”
Prices for a room in Apollo Bay had halved, from around $160 this time last year to $80 a night, Mr Watts said, with customers, other than a handful of tradies, scarce.
The seaside town is slowly stirring back to life, though, and while they’re still tweaking how they operate to accommodate for social restrictions, they’re ready to welcome visitors.
“It’ll be harder to clean rooms … there are a lot of things we’ve got to work out,” Mr Watts said.
“But people will be very welcome, there is no doubt about that. And it will look pristine because people have been doing renovations.”