When will Australians be able to go on holiday again?

Jetting off on holiday seems like a distant dream at the moment. But with the prospect of lockdown restrictions abating, this is what to expect when it comes to planning your next holiday. 

What is happening with the current coronavirus travel ban?

International borders were closed in Australia on March 20, with Australians banned from flying overseas, except in essential circumstances such as repatriation. Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory have all closed their borders, with the remaining states banning all non-essential travel, including driving to stay in a holiday house. Anyone returning from overseas has an enforced 14-day quarantine in a hotel, supervised by the police. 

If you need to be repatriated, some airlines are flying in and out of Australia, says travel specialist and owner at Mobile Travel Agents, Jacqui Cameron. “Qatar Airways and Malaysia Airlines are flying to and from the UK around twice a week at the moment,” she says. “Costs have come down in the last week. Make sure you buy a through ticket, so you don’t get stranded at a stopover destination.” 

Grounded Qantas aircraft are seen parked at Brisbane Airport in Brisbane, amid the coronavirus outbreak. Source: AAP

When can I book an international holiday again? 

Probably not until next year. “The smart money is on international restrictions not being lifted until at best the end of 2020, and most likely in to 2021,” says Executive Director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, Simon Westaway. 

International travel restrictions have “played a key role and will continue to play a key role" in keeping Australians safe from COVID-19, according to Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham. “This is a time where, unfortunately, people can't undertake holidays and they won't be able to go overseas for quite some time to come,” he said recently.

What countries will I be allowed to travel to when restrictions are lifted?

“The first international service to return will likely be the Trans-Tasman route [between Australia and New Zealand],” says Mr Westaway. “The ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’ around COVID-19 is in a place few other parts of the world are, so it makes sense for it to happen.

“New Zealand are very keen as Australian visitors make up about a third of their tourism market. I suspect this might happen in the last quarter of 2020.” He adds: “This isn’t to say other markets couldn’t come on the line either before or in parallel with this, if testing and social distancing at airports is established.”

Travellers and Australian residents who arrive into the country from overseas are being sent straight to makeshift quarantine facilities across Australia. Source: AAP

When can I take a domestic holiday again?

“We anticipate there might be some flow of movement for domestic travel by the end of May,” says Mr Westaway.

However, he suspects that many people will choose to drive to a holiday rather than fly.

“People can still socially distance when they’re in their own vehicle,” he says. “Often when people start to travel after a disaster they take short trips, so a car seems easier for people.”

He believes the majority of people will start taking day trips or short driveable weekend breaks before heading interstate.

Police screen incoming passengers at the domestic airport in Brisbane. Queensland is one of the Australian states which has closed its borders. Source: AAP

Will flights be more expensive when the coronavirus restrictions are lifted?

Despite suggestions that flights could be expensive due to being able to carry fewer passengers because of social distancing, Mr Westaway believes the airline industry will have to be competitive.

“Airlines will need to fill their seats, so prices will have to be good,” he says. “That goes for prices across the whole tourism industry. The market will need to be stimulated.”

Ms Cameron agrees: “When restrictions are lifted, I’m expecting to see good prices from carriers such as Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and Cathay Pacific, who will be competing for the same passengers.”

It is possible domestic travel could be a reality by May this year. Source: AAP

Should I book a cheap holiday now for in a few months’ time?

There are some cheap deals around, but it’s a judgement call as to whether you risk booking.

“We’ve had some fairly strong assurances from the Prime Minister that we are well on track with our COVID-19 response,” says Mr Westaway. “If you’re booking domestic travel for the last quarter of the year, then of course it comes with a risk, but you could get some great prices at the moment.”

Ms Cameron adds: “I would advise not to book any domestic holidays before September, and international holidays before at least the end of the year.” 

What if I had to cancel my holiday due to coronavirus? 

“If you had a holiday booked and are unable to get there due to the travel restrictions, contact the company you booked through originally,” advises Ms Cameron.

“If you booked through a travel agent, don’t call the airline direct as they won’t be able to help you. If you booked direct through an airline and can’t get hold of them, you could speak to a travel agent who might be able to help you navigate the system. But you should expect to be charged a service fee.”

A seagull flies over tourists sitting on a concrete bench in front of the Sydney Opera House in central Sydney prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Source: Reuters

Will there be a rush to book holidays when restrictions are lifted?

It will depend on people’s circumstances. “There will be a large number of people who are unemployed, so travel will not be a priority,” says Mr Westaway. “It’s looking like the travel industry in Australia will take between three and five years to fully recover.” 

However, Ms Cameron reports that anecdotally people are keen to travel. “So many people want to go and visit family, or just really need a change of scenery,” she says. “I think people are desperate to get out there.”

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