Health minister’s grim outlook for international travel

Hopes of Australia opening its international borders any time soon have been dashed by Health Minister Greg Hunt who said they will remain closed for “a very significant” amount of time as global infection rates accelerate.

“For the time being we are an island sanctuary,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

With domestic tourism being pushed as a way to offset the loss of international visitors, the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has warned it will not fill the massive hole left by banning international visitors.

“Our research has shown that a third of tourism businesses will not benefit from the domestic tourism market with more than half of businesses expecting to not be viable within 6 months without international visitors,” said ATEC managing director Peter Shelley.

“This is hardly surprising given the average spend of an international visitor is $5,211. It’s just not feasible to think most Australians would spend that amount of money on a domestic holiday in order to make up a $45 billion shortfall.”

“Many other tourism businesses are just not able to ‘pivot’ to the domestic market. They are either exclusively focused on international visitors – like inbound tour operators who build itineraries for international travellers and support and service them during their stay, or tourism businesses which have invested in designing products to appeal to particular international markets.

“What’s important now is that we preserve the export tourism businesses which will form the foundation of our rebuilding so we can reignite that successful growth once international borders are open.”

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways chief strategy and transformation officer Thierry Antinori told The Australian that global international travel “will take years” to rebound.

“People will be more conscious about the reliability of the airline that they use,” he said. “There’s a lot more cautiousness to flying and we need airlines that provide good service to customers. Customers want reliability.

“We flew continuously during the crisis. I think people will remember us for that. Other airlines are (now) trying to restart but it is very difficult.

“Australia has been the most important market for us during COVID-19 and we are thankful they allowed us to fly into Brisbane. For us it’s important to do the best for the customer and the trade.”