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Up, Up and Away?

Exactly one year ago, the travel industry went from experiencing its 15th year of consecutive growth to being completely decimated internationally on an unprecedented scale thanks to COVID-19. Now with the new year upon us and a vaccine on the horizon, the question remains as to what 2021 will hold for the future of travel? We talked to owner of italktravel, Rane Reguson and Travel Associates’ Debbie Rains, to see if 2021 has been dubbed the “year of domestic travel.”

Around the world, places like the United States, are still experiencing nationwide lockdowns, while at the beginning of the year, domestic destinations, like Brisbane and Sydney, seemed to be on the edge of a dreaded second wave. Debbie Rains, owner of Travel Associates, says that despite the undeniably rocky start to the year, the travel industry is predicted to regain its footing in 2021 thanks to new ‘travel bubbles’ that are currently being negotiated. 

“We started 2021 quite positively, and there was certainly a renewed inquiry about travel over the Christmas break, but then of course, we had the lockdowns in the US, the UK, and more recently the cluster outbreaks in Brisbane,” muses Debbie. 

“While Qantas has announced they are putting their long-haul flights into the system, available for sale July 1 for the UK and Europe, the Federal Chief Medical officer has suggested there would not be international travel for 2021.” 

Emirates have recently suspended flights to the east coast of Australia due to the reduction in the quota allowed in, and Debbie says their business modelling is already predicting the next 12 months to be predominantly domestic, with the possible exception of New Zealand travel. 

Image credit: wander_with_maro

“Since there has been so much uncertainty, many of our clients are looking to make this year their big domestic holiday year, and have brought forward their domestic travel plans,” she continues. 

“There are also numerous endearing travel packages on the market at the moment encouraging people to use 2021 as their domestic year. Then the following year, depending on where everything is at, people may start to reinvestigate their international plans.” 

With flights from Auckland to Brisbane already operating without quarantine, New Zealand will be one of the first international destinations for Australians. Air New Zealand have already brought back the majority of their cabin and flight crew in preparation for the Trans-Tasman bubble set to open in May, however, Debbie says even this will be dependent on the vaccine. 

“More than likely the travel bubbles will open in countries who are pretty much through vaccinating their citizens, like Israel and Dubai, even before New Zealand now as they seem to have lost their appetite for opening their borders. It really hinges on the results of the vaccines,” Debbie says in a later follow up interview. 

“After New Zealand we can expect Fiji, Vanuatu, and the surrounding Islands, followed by Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Japan, then lastly pockets of Europe, more specifically certain Scandinavian countries that have done okay during COVID, and then of course, the US, with the latter predicted to open up more towards 2023.”

With the latest travel information constantly changing at a moment’s notice, many people are still cautious predicting the recovery of international and domestic travel. However, Rane Reguson, owner of italktravel points out how consumers’ desire to travel is only being heightened with every announcement around border openings and vaccines.  

“People are ready to go, but the question everyone wants to know is, when will all these borders open up?” says Rane. 

“We can try and predict what places are expected to open up first, but unfortunately, the timing can be a difficult one for us to answer, especially with the UK strain because no one knows what impact it could potentially have on the travel industry.”

Before being able to travel freely again, both Debbie and Rane believe the vaccine will become a mandatory component of the future of international travel. This has been indicated further by businesses, like Qantas and other airlines, who have flagged that they’ll only let people who can prove they’ve been vaccinated board international flights. 

“It’ll be a case of seeing what the vaccine brings, and when the international travel market does return, it appears there will be a requirement to have mandatory COVID testing before and after the flights, and possibly a vaccine clearance letter,” explains Rane. 

“This is in line with what they’ve currently done with New Zealand – you have to have a test before you board, a test on arrival, and while there is no vaccine widely available as yet, I’m predicting this will be a roll out across all destinations when international travel resumes.” 

Australia’s economic recovery has certainly suffered from the lack of foreign tourists visiting our shores, and with so much uncertainty as to when we are expected to see these travelers returning, Debbie says domestic travel in 2021 will play a key role in rebuilding the nation’s economy and tourism sector. 

“It’s about exploring our back yard,” continues Debbie. “We have a wealth of knowledge and experience here that we need to support so when the time comes for international travelers to come back on our shores, we will have those tourist services flourishing and readily available.”

“When businesses close, they often don’t reopen, so it is our responsibility to ensure we keep the domestic tourism industry afloat while international borders remain closed.”

While COVID-19 has caused economic disaster for the travel industry, it has also pushed local, regional and national governments to find new ways to support the domestic tourism sector. This has seen the state’s tourism governments – with the current exception of Queensland – create travel incentive vouchers and pump 180-million-dollars into travel agency support packages.

“We’ve seen many state tourism boards provide vouchers to encourage people to travel domestically this year,” says Rane.

“This will help inject money into hotels, the hospitality sector, and various other local businesses across Australia.” 

With numerous lucrative deals available, Rane stresses the importance of choosing local travel agencies that can provide their travelers with up to date information on the latest COVID restrictions. 

“Once upon a time, you’d book something, and if you couldn’t go, it was non-refundable, but now there are many deals, packages and flexible options offered to consumers,” he continues. 

“In saying this, booking with locals is so important for a consumer, because over the COVID crisis, there have been numerous offshore online companies that have gone bankrupt, and the clients have lost their money.” 

“As local travel agencies we have an insolvency insurance program in place to cover our clients’ money and we are constantly kept up to date with the very latest information, so there is a whole different side that is equally as important.”

Despite the constant uncertainty, many industry professionals share the belief that people’s desire to travel will remain undimmed. 

“Australians have always been avid travelers,” exudes Debbie. “From the 11 September crisis to the Bali Bombings, we’ve hung around home for a while, but then been eager to start travelling again. While there will be some major changes in the travel industry, once it finds its feet amidst this new normal, it will take off once again.” 

Rane agrees and reminds us that an optimistic attitude is the key to success.

“The main thing to remember is that we will get back to normal, we can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that is what we have to keep reminding ourselves.” 

By Georgie Desailly.

This article was originally published in our February Digital Issue >>>>

Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She is preparing to study with The School of The New York Times later this year before commencing her journalism qualifications.