Aussies are holding out hope things will go back to pre-Covid times in 2022. Two travel experts have weighed in on what our holiday-obsessed nation will probably look like.
Ever since the international travel ban was announced way back in March 2020, Aussies have been itching to get back on planes and jet overseas.
And with the nation hitting 70 per cent double dose vaccination of its eligible population yesterday, that goal is inching closer and closer.
NSW will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated Aussies from November 1, with any and all quarantine ousted as well.
Victoria and the ACT are expected to follow suit shortly after, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also made a promise earlier this week to open the state’s border to fully vaccinated travellers, arriving by air, on November 19 at the latest.
The reopening of our nation couldn’t come soon enough for Flight Centre – which has been desperately fighting for the resurgence of Australia’s travel market since the Covid pandemic hit.
Speaking to news.com.au, FCM General Manager of Australia, Melissa Elf, said it was clear Aussies were desperate to get back to their old, jetsetting lives.
FCM Travel is the corporate travel arm of Flight Centre Travel Group.
“We’re returning to some sense of normalcy, we saw earlier this year that our customers returned significantly,” Ms Elf said.
“We were back at levels of 80 to 90 per cent domestically in June 2021 (when borders were open).
“Customers are ready to fly, there’s lots of pent up demand to get back once international borders open and our customers will want to jump back on plane again.”
Previous projections initially saw air travel not reaching pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023, so a revision of that forecast is a welcome sign for the troubled tourism industry.
Ms Elf said Flight Centre was expecting the market to “bounce back pretty quickly” and by late January, it’s hoped things will be relatively normal.
“We just really need Australia to come on board in aligning with its borders reopening domestically,” she said.
“The irony is Aussies will travel to London before Brisbane, which is madness.”
Lessons and aspirations can also be taken from other countries, including the US, which is rapidly reviving its travel market.
Charlene Leiss, President at Flight Centre Travel Group for The Americas, has witnessed first-hand how quickly people re-embraced travel over in the US.
“(The US) has enjoyed a really nice recovery for the past eight or nine months and ever since vaccines were implemented in force, travel numbers have improved,” Ms Leiss told news.com.au.
The US is “returning to normalcy” she added, with travellers picking up where they left off, kids heading back to school and concerts and events kicking off again.
“There was a little bit of a blip in August, maybe to do with the Delta variant … but every month we’re seeing an improvement.”
Ms Leiss said travel was almost at 50 per cent of its pre-Covid volume, a figure that was rising each week.
“As soon as we see those heavy handed restrictions lifted, like hotel quarantine, it makes all the difference to travelling,” she said.
The US is also grappling with vaccine mandates, with recent mass cancellations across the US from Southwest Airlines blamed on the company losing staff due to the mandate.
“We’re already seeing that it’s probably inevitable you’ll need to be vaccinated … most cities you need to be to get into restaurants and clubs,” Ms Leiss said.
“Some major airlines domestically have required it … United was one of the first to do that, and Southwest hasn’t come out as vocally but they’ve certainly had a number of issues trying to manage staff through that vax requirement.
“But soon, it’ll become a minimum requirement to do just about anything.”
One sector in travel that’s been hit particularly hard is the cruise industry – but Ms Leiss said the industry was already bouncing back in the US.
“I think the cruising industry has suffered from a number of blows, they were the first to be impacted by severe lockdowns and restrictions and they’ve been the most motivated to come up with solutions,” she said.
“The Caribbean and Mexico industries, they announced they were going to reopen by the end of this year and immediately the numbers kicked off.”
Airlines and travel agents were hit by an “unprecedented” number of refund requests last year, when the travel industry was brought to a standstill and millions of customers were left fighting for their money back.
Six months after the pandemic hit, Flight Centre had refunded more than 140,000 bookings, at a cost of $800 million.
Air New Zealand was processing $21 million worth of refunds a week last year and Emirates and Qatar Airways saw their refund bills exceed the $1.4 billion mark.
Ms Elf said Flight Centre was hoping the events of 2020 would never be repeated.
“This was a time when we had unprecedented cancellations. We had thousands and thousands of bookings all cancelled in such a short period of time,” she said.
“It wasn’t just Flight Centre, it was the whole industry. I look back and think of it as an extraordinary event and one I hope will never be repeated.
“Everyone did their absolute best to get the industry back on its feet.”
Ms Leiss encouraged Australians to embrace the mindset currently held overseas.
“Certainly in the US and the UK, there’s a feeling and a sentiment that the pandemic, in its initial sense, is over,” she said.
“It’s really about learning to the live with the virus and, with the vaccines readily available, it’s just a matter of making sure we give everyone their lives and freedom back.”