It could take years for tourism and travel to recover from the coronavirus crisis, with Australia’s borders closed for the foreseeable future and international flights grounded.
On Thursday, the International Air Transport Association forecast that air traffic won’t return to pre-crisis levels until 2023.
The forecast demonstrates “the importance and the severity of this crisis on air transport”, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said.
University of Queensland tourism expert Pierre Benckendorff told The New Daily that while most countries are grappling with the impact of the coronavirus on travel and tourism, Australia’s standout success at containing the virus means that opening the nation up to international travel poses many risks, and appears to be off the cards for the foreseeable future.
“We’re perhaps in a more risky position because we almost seem to have eradicated the virus in Australia, and the same in New Zealand,” Dr Benckendorff said.
“A lot of other countries have not been a position like that, and still have many cases on on the ground.
So for us the risk of reintroducing the virus and triggering a second wave of infections is really high.’’
The Australian government is likely to “play this very cautiously”, Dr Benckendorff said.
“Even though there’s a big negative economic impact, they’re likely to keep the borders closed for quite a long period of time,” he said.
I’d be very surprised if they reopened the borders without some kind of vaccine being available, and the timelines for that are 12 to 18 months.’’
Instead, Australia’s travel and tourism industry, which has been devastated by the coronavirus lockdown, must “re-orientate itself to domestic tourism“, Dr Benckendorff said.
The creation of a trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand would also be a boon for the tourism and travel industry, he said.
“New Zealand is one of our top five source markets. So while we might be losing out on China, hopefully we’ll pick up on that New Zealand invitation,” Dr Benckendorff said.
New Zealanders are “unlikely to have elsewhere to go” so “we might pick up visitors that have been wanting to come to Australia for a while, but had maybe planned to go to the US or the UK or somewhere else. They might now change their plans and come here”.
When restrictions were relaxed in China there was a “surge of people wanting to get back out and travel”, Dr Benckendorff said, with the same thing likely to happen here.
“I think domestic travel will bounce back fairly quickly once the restrictions are eased, and if we don’t have any more waves of outbreaks,” he said.
“The appetite for travel is so big and people are being cooped up in lockdown.
“Instead of spending that money overseas, people are much more likely to spend it going on holiday in Australia simply because they can’t go overseas.”
Some tourism businesses have already started to innovate and reconnect with customers despite virus restrictions, Dr Benckendorff said.
One example of this is Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which has been doing live broadcasts of different animals, from feeding dingoes to sleepy koalas.
“They’ve been running live video feeds on Facebook and on YouTube just to keep people engaged and to continue to say, ‘Hey, we’re still here. When you’re ready to come and visit us, we’ll be here for you’,” Dr Benckendorff explained.
“Other places, like museums are using virtual reality.
“So they’re taking some of their virtual reality content and just making it available for free for people to enjoy while they’re locked down … so we are seeing some creative approaches.”
Ultimately, the fortunes of the tourism and travel industry hinges on how quickly a vaccine is developed, Dr Benckendorff said.
Travel will be profoundly changed by the crisis, he said, with physically distanced seats in airports and on planes, enhanced hygiene, and ‘immunity passports‘ on the cards.
“I would expect that once they open international borders, countries might be asking you to demonstrate that you’ve been vaccinated or that you have the antibodies,” Dr Benckendorff said.
The whole travel experience is likely to become “much more more contactless”, he said, with biometric technology playing a bigger role and helping to “verify the identity of people rather than having people touching passports and handing over passports and touching different surfaces and so on”.
“I think you’ll see airlines spending a lot more time cleaning planes in between flights, which means they can’t turn the flights around as quickly in airports,” Dr Benckendorff said.
“You won’t see airport seating arranged as close together as it has been in the past, and some airlines in the short term are talking about not booking the middle seat on board, which will obviously make it difficult to
make a profit on some flights.”
Australians ready and willing to travel: COVIDpoll
On Thursday, Sydney-based international policy think tank the Lowy Institute published research on the impact of the coronavirus on Australian attitudes towards international travel.
Once the pandemic is contained, the majority of Australians “remain as willing to travel as prior to the outbreak” according to the Lowy Institute COVIDpoll published on Thursday.
“Australians have always been travellers: They take more than 11 million trips overseas every year and an estimated one million Australians live and work overseas at any given time,” Lowy Institute research fellow Natasha Kassam said.
“They appear undeterred by the pandemic, with the majority of Australians (59 per cent) saying that they are just as likely to travel as before, once the pandemic is contained.
“Only 6 per cent say that are more likely to travel once the pandemic is contained, and 35 per cent say they are less likely to travel than before the outbreak.”