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Domestic Cruising Restart in Australia Still an Uphill Battle
Sydney, Australia (Photo:Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock)

Domestic Cruising Restart in Australia Still an Uphill Battle

Domestic Cruising Restart in Australia Still an Uphill Battle
Sydney, Australia (Photo:Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock)

July 13, 2020

Aaron Saunders
Senior Editor, News and Features
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(1:30 p.m. EDT) -- The restart of domestic cruising in Australia continues to face setbacks well into what was initially seen as a glimmer of optimism for the tourism industry in the South Pacific.

Initial hopes that a trans-Tasman travel corridor could reopen between Australia and New Zealand as early as July 1 were dashed in late-June, as New Zealand reported additional new cases of COVID-19 unwittingly

brought into the country

from two travellers from the United Kingdom visited Auckland on compassionate leave, previously granted for people to attend events like funerals.

Australia's largest airline and flag carrier Qantas further deepened the seriousness of the situation as it

announced the grounding

of its Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet and suggested international travel wouldn't emerge in the country until 2021 at the earliest. All international routes operated by Qantas are cancelled until the end of October.

And while hope remains that the trans-Tasman air corridor with New Zealand could resume as early as September, domestic small-ship cruise operators in Australia are struggling to restart as states lock down and re-impose restrictions, as was seen when Melbourne

imposed lockdown curfew

on its citizens beginning July 8.

Large-scale cruise lines like P&O Australia face even bigger challenges, as they are tethered to a number of international regulatory bodies including the Cruise Lines International Association, which banned its members from operations -- at least in the United States -- through September 15.

Small-ship domestic cruise lines based in Australia were seen as having a leg-up on the industry as it looks to restart in the region. But how likely is that to happen -- and will it occur in time for the lucrative summer travel season in the southern hemisphere?

Wavering Consumer Confidence, Changing Policies

Sydney, Australia (Photo: lkpro/Shutterstock.com)

Australia's Tourism Restart Taskforce met for the eighth time July 3, and members noted a wide array of concerns with the resumption of even domestic tourism.

The Taskforce noted that more jobs were lost in accommodation and food service than in any other industry. Eroding consumer confidence, brought on by a shifting of regulations, the re-emergence of lockdown procedures in Melbourne and the loss of the anticipated trans-Tasman bubble, eroded consumer and business confidence.

"The lack of certainty remained one of the major issues for tourism businesses,"

the Taskforce noted

in its meeting minutes from  June 30. "There needs to be a better understanding of the implications of what some may consider the reality of a second wave of the pandemic which may stretch out the impact of the crisis beyond two years particularly if there is no vaccine.  The Government, who has already acknowledged that the goal is not eradication but suppression, is encouraged to make it clearer what the goals are for easing restrictions beyond the current 3 step timetable that finishes in July. There needs to be realistic expectations around health, and the unreasonableness of not shutting borders indefinitely. "

A Targeted Plan

Carnival Splendor (Photo: Tim Faircloth)

The Taskforce stated international travel should be resumed in accordance with the previously published timetable that would see trans-Tasman travel restart first, followed by other countries deemed "safe" in September, then with international travel to approved destinations by December 15.

Some estimates for international travel to resume have been as far into the future as July 2021 -- something that continues to erode consumer confidence domestically and beyond.

The Tourism Taskforce has recommended to all federal, state and territorial governments within Australia that the country should not backpedal in its staged approach to re-opening; something that is already happening in Melbourne. It also advocates for the opening of all state borders within the country; the development of the trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand; ensure lead times are sufficient to allow travel to resume; and provide guidelines for the opening of county to county travel within Australia.

However, under these guidelines drawn up just a short time ago, Australia has already fallen behind. The trans-Tasman bubble doesn't yet exist, making conditional reopening of travel between the Pacific Island nations that was tentatively scheduled for July and August; and the easing of restrictions for international travel to select countries that have controlled their COVID-19 infection rates beginning in mid-October look increasingly unlikely.

Last year, Australia earned some $45.4 billion in revenue from international travellers, while domestic tourism totalled $80.7 billion. The country's devastating brushfire season in December 2019 seriously and negatively affected international tourism to the country for the beginning of the 2020 season, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The aspiration of the Taskforce is to progressively open to markets where there are bilateral health agreements," according to the restart task plan by the Tourism Restart Taskforce. "Further openings are strongly encouraged to occur by September. Most importantly, the Federal Government is encouraged to provide to industry an understanding of what the expectation is for source and destination countries to be included in travel bans being lifted and under what conditions."

Cruise Industry Impact

Murray Princess

The domestic and international cruise industry in Australia stands to be substantially affected by the continued indecision that affects the country, as well as the ongoing lockdown between individual states.

Lines like Murray Cruises, which operates the Murray Princess on the Murray River, have resorted to restructuring their voyages to hopefully begin this month after plans to restart in June were scuttled.

The same story is true over at local operator Coral Expeditions, which now hopes to resume sailings as soon as it is safe to do so, a change from the line's previous hope that cruises could resume in July.

One of Australia's largest cruise lines, P&O Australia, is still on a voluntary operational pause through August 31.

All of this is hard on would-be vacationers who can't be sure when cruising, or any other form of travel, will restart in 2020. Because the choice to vacation isn't typically a last-minute decision, the Taskforce warns that these advance lead times could artificially prolong the shutdown of domestic and international tourism further.

"Travel and tourism is focused on advanced bookings and long lead times between planning and the dates of travel," the Taskforce noted. "The Taskforce urges Government to allow for lead time in announcing when international border restrictions would be eased."

With restrictions not eased and individual states and regions walking back plans to reopen, Australia's Tourism Restart Taskforce faces an uphill battle; one in which elected officials, as much as the travelling public, still need significant amounts of convincing.

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