The long path to recovery begins as Australia opens up to the world

Tourism leaders have understandably welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Australia would reopen its international border to visitors from February 21, but warned the path to pre-pandemic levels of visitation would take years to achieve.

“Australian tourism businesses will rejoice in the news that our borders will reopen to all international travellers on 21 February,” said Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley.

“It’s been a long hard and desperate road for every tourism business across the country and we have lost many along the way, but this news will give those who have survived a clear target to work towards and a start point for the rebuilding of the industry.

“With close to two years with our borders closed our industry has lost tens of billions of dollars in export revenue and we welcome the border reopening as an opportunity to regain some of Australia’s tourism market share.”

Shelley said while the border reopening was the top priority for the industry, the damage has been devastating and every part of the industry will need support to reboot successfully.

“Australia is an incredible destination and one that enjoyed a place at the top of the global travel bucket list prior to covid closing our borders back in March 2020, and we can see a strong future for our industry,” he said.

“While other destinations are already back online and welcoming visitors, Australia has been off the global destination list for quite some time and there is significant pent-up demand as we look forward.

“But the challenge for our industry is to meet this demand successfully and that will involve tourism businesses rebuilding their lost capacity, product, service skills and supply chains.

“Given the tourism industry has taken a devastating hit to its skills base, experience, expertise and global sales networks, we urge the Government to outline a significant funding commitment to our industry in next month’s budget as a sign of its support for what has been a hugely valuable economic contributor for more than a decade.”

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the carrier could quickly ramp up flights on those when demand picks up.

“We will be looking at our schedules to see if we can restart flights from more international destinations sooner or add capacity to those routes we are already flying,” he said.

“We have the flexibility to ramp up flights in response to demand.”

But Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond warned there would not be a immediate rush of visitors to Australia given its two biggest overseas markets, China and New Zealand, were still locked out.

“It’s not a case on February 21 that 1.9 million people a month will come through the door,” Osmond told The Australian Financial Review.

“It’s going to take years. I don’t know whether we will get back to pre-COVID levels.”