Australia is at risk of being left behind by the rest of the world as countries, including the 27-nation European Union – move quickly towards travel for vaccinated individuals.
That is the message from at-home industry experts, after the European Parliament gave final approval to its COVID-19 digital certificate – a smartphone app that EU citizens will soon use to travel to countries without the need to quarantine.
The widely awaited certificate is aimed at saving Europe’s travel industry, and has been watched closely around the globe.
Plus, if non-EU citizens want to travel to Europe and are vaccinated, they will also be able to apply to visit.
Australia, on the other hand, on Thursday announced its international travel ban would be extended a further three months until at least September.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the extension was on the advice that the global pandemic “continues to pose an unacceptable risk to public health”.
“The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk,” Mr Hunt said.
Singapore travel bubble agreement
Australia and Singapore have agreed to start work on a plan for a travel bubble which would initially allow students to return.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Singapore had done a “tremendous” job in tackling COVID-19 and it was time to put systems in place for the two countries to open up in a similar way to the Australia-New Zealand bubble “when we are both in a position to do so”.
Although that’s positive news, tourism industry experts are concerned Australia is still at risk of being left behind in the global tourism market because of our lagging vaccine rollout.
“We have to get vaccination rates up, because that is the only way we can get the border open,” said Dean Long, CEO of the Accommodation Association.
“If we can get people vaccinated quickly, we will have a bonanza.”
Australia is already on many of the exemption lists for EU countries because of our low risk of community transmission.
But without a heavily vaccinated population, it’s a moot point, Mr Long said.
“We’re definitely concerned that we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of our great response. If we don’t invest in a safe reopening we’ll lose competitive advantage,” Mr Long said.
“If we’re still here in 12 months when the rest of the world is fully vaccinated and travelling – and we’re trying to compete with that – our recovery will take longer.”
Singapore is not the only possible bubble for Australia.
Pacific Islands, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan have also been tipped for future partnership, depending on outbreaks.
Mr Long says that Australian population deserves to know what the plan is to get our borders open and travel running again.
“We haven’t seen what the game plan is to get the border open and reconnect with other countries,” he said.
Talks, but no action – yet
On Thursday the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade met industry leaders to discuss what travel in the future could possibly look like.
Although no commitments were made, TND understands possible travel bubbles were discussed at length – not with the European Union but our neighbours in Asia and the Pacific.
Senior lecturer in the Management Discipline Group specialising in tourism at UTS David Beirman said Australia was in a good position to create travel bubbles with other low-risk countries.
“Provided you choose where you’re going to have a bubble carefully, there is no reason we can’t have them,” Dr Beirman said.
Industry leaders, the government and airlines are all starting to work out plans to put travel back on the agenda before everyone is vaccinated.
“There will never be a stage where you get a 100 per cent vaccination rate,” Dr Beirman said.
“Quite a few countries are demanding a vaccination certificate or chip, which would be like a COVID passport.
“So those people who have been vaccinated will be given preference and that’s fair enough, they’re making a commitment to protect themselves.”