Family retreats and Antarctic trips are just some of the many ways Intrepid Travel have managed to avoid the worst of the COVID obliteration of the travel industry in 2020.
Speaking on the ABC’s Radio National on 23rd September, Australian CEO of Intrepid Travel James Thornton told the reporter that state-based wellness products, along with other new closer-to-home alternatives to international travel were helping the industry stretch its legs and capabilities into a short term future that is 100% reliant on domestic, most notably intrastate tourism.
He called on industry-specific support for the travel, tourism and hospitality industries for when JobKeeper is expected to taper off in March.
Flights to nowhere over scenic regions such as Uluru Ayers Rock have also been selling, with airlines
The Tourism News 23 Sep 2020
Australians forced to scrap overseas holidays have ditched the azure waters of the Amalfi Coast for the ancient canyons of the Pilbara, abandoning autobahns for outback highways.
- Sunshine Coast and Margaret River are some of the areas expected to benefit from domestic travellers
- Economists say the spike is a “sugar hit” and won’t help businesses that rely on international visitors
- International tourists injected $30 billion into the Australian economy last year
Trapped on home soil — and many in their own states — people are flocking to explore their own backyards, creating a spike in domestic tourism.
The surge in interest has seen flash cars zipping from Brisbane into western Queensland, an area typically visited by grey nomads in campervans and international tourists.
“We’ve got Porches, Mustangs, Ferraris … I even saw a Rolls Royce out here about six weeks ago,” chief executive of the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, Denise Brown said.
Ms Brown said the “enormous spike”, which had left most hotels nearly full, had also been fuelled by travellers from north Queensland and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.
Domestic travel in WA isn’t cheap, but discounted flights have helped many West Australians explore a slice of the state that’s sometimes too expensive to see.
Perth resident Hannah Docherty, 25, had booked a Europe trip in July, but instead embarked on a road trip to Exmouth and Karijini — the state’s second largest National park — in the Pilbara.
“I’d already booked the leave for Europe — obviously that was cancelled,” Ms Docherty said.
“So I was super keen to get away, and, obviously after lockdown, I was so desperate to get out of the city and explore a bit of the state while we had the opportunity.
Can domestic tourism fill the void?
International tourists injected a whopping $30 billion into the Australian economy last year, according to Regional Australia Institute chief economist Kim Houghton.
But he thinks the recent interest is more of a “spike” than a long-term trend.
“I’m certainly not suggesting everywhere is booming. That’s not the case at all,” Mr Houghton said.
“But it is if you are in one of those hotspot [tourist] areas, particularly in WA … I think Queensland will probably move second.”
But it’s hoped interstate visitors might in future.
SGS Economics and Planning’s Terry Rawnsley described the current situation as a “sugar hit” for tourism operators, and said businesses should capitalise on the sudden interest.
“Some domestic tourists just aren’t that aware of what Australia has to offer,” Mr Rawnsley said.
He said places like Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, WA’s Margaret River — and when restrictions eased — Victoria’s Alpine region and Surf Coast would be able to attract short-term visitors from the cities on weekends.
But, Mr Rawnsley said, those regions with an offering further away, and more directly focussed on international travellers, faced a much tougher outlook.
“For instance, Kangaroo Island, which is a bit further away and doesn’t have a domestic base to draw off, will find it difficult going forward,” he said.
Businesses on “life support”
In Tasmania, Greg Price has been offering bus tours for backpackers for more than a decade.
In a good year, he’d have 2000 international guests heading out on trips, but he hasn’t run a tour since March.
“Our tours are very much designed for people who haven’t been in Australia very much,” Mr Price said.
“So you know, national parks, wildlife and some of those things that Australians might take a bit for granted.”
He said his business was on “life support” through Jobkeeper and that it couldn’t be revived unless international borders reopened.
Mr Price said in comparison to domestic visitors, overseas travellers spread their money far and wide through consumption of goods such as food and beverages.
“International guests tend to stay for a lot longer,” he said.
“So they come to Tasmania and they’re thinking about staying for seven to 10 days, whereas locals or even interstate visitors, they’re just thinking a weekend or a long weekend.
The award-winning entrepreneur is worried the tourism industry will suffer more down the track as well-trained employees look elsewhere for more secure employment.
“The biggest problem is that [the] industry’s going to start losing its best people because, I guess, you can’t blame them,” he said.
“Just last week, one of my last staffers handed in his notice, and he’s going to work somewhere else, and cited uncertainty in tourism.
“And even transport and tourism operators will look at that, because if you’ve invested all this money in your business and it’s not doing anything, then eventually you have to take that out and do something else.”
Economist Terry Rawnsley said the winding down of JobKeeper was a “real danger time” for tourism businesses heavily dependent on international arrivals.
The changes that passed earlier this month, will see the fortnightly payment for full-time employees decrease from $1,500 to $1,200 on September 28.
“JobKeeper has kept them solvent for the last six months, stepping it down over the next few months is going to create some real challenges,” Mr Rawnsley said.
Whether it’s signing up for “flights to nowhere”, buying in-flight meals to eat at home or even just pretending to be on a plane for social media, travel junkies are going to extreme lengths to get their fix.
Turns out one of the big things that people miss while not being able to travel during the pandemic is actually flying on planes.
When tickets costing between $787 and $3,787 went on sale this week for a Qantas sightseeing joy flight, on a 787 Dreamliner taking off and landing back at Sydney airport, they sold out in minutes.
Passengers on the “Great Southern Land” flight will get to board a Boeing 787 normally used for international long-haul routes and fly at low altitudes over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour.
Flying without ‘all the bad bits’
Curtin University aviation expert Michael Baird, himself an aviation enthusiast, said he was a big fan of the idea.
“I’d like to do one of these flights just because I enjoy the experience of being in a plane and the 787 is a great aircraft,” he said.
Dr Baird said Qantas had “essentially taken out all the bad bits of flying” like checking in and going through customs.
It meant people who liked the experience of flying could “just enjoy getting up in the air”.
“It’s been six months minimum since most people have been able to get on a passenger jet,” he said.
‘Flights to nowhere’
Qantas’s sightseeing flight is part of a growing trend among airlines in the Asia Pacific region of “flights to nowhere” that take off and land at the same airport.
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines said there had been a 97.5 per cent fall in international travel in the region, which has led a number of airlines to look for ways to get people up in the air without taking them anywhere.
Taiwan’s EVA Airways last month used one of its iconic “Hello Kitty” planes for a special two-hour-and-45-minute Father’s Day flight (code BR5288 which sounds like “I love you dad” in Mandarin) that took off and landed at Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport.
Meanwhile, Japan’s ANA used an Airbus SE A380 that usually flies to Honolulu for a 90-minute flight with a Hawaiian experience on board.
The flights in Asia have proven just as popular as the one being offered by Qantas.
Tickets costing around $228 for a Tigerair Taiwan flight from Taipei that will circle over South Korea’s Jeju Island reportedly sold out in four minutes.
The price included a one-year voucher for round-trip tickets from Taiwan to Korea, which can be used after COVID-19 travel bans are lifted.
Chen Shu Tze, an engineer from Taipei who bought tickets on the flight, said the voucher made it a good deal and she missed being able to travel — especially to South Korea.
“The pandemic has a devasting impact on the tourism and airline industry, so I want to help boost the economy, and I miss flying,” she told Reuters.
Carbon emissions criticisms
Not everyone is a fan of these “flights to nowhere” though.
Reports in Singapore’s Straits Times on Sunday that Singapore Airlines was considering putting on scenic flights from next month prompted fierce criticism.
Singapore Airlines said it was considering several initiatives but no final decision had been made on whether to offer sightseeing flights.
Qantas said it would pay to offset the carbon emissions on its scenic flight from Sydney, though some noted that would not actually reduce emissions.
A taste of flying while still on the ground
Meanwhile, some other services for frequent flyers craving a hit don’t even involve planes leaving the ground.
In July, Taiwan’s Songshan Airport had finished a big upgrade after the pandemic hit and wanted to show off the results.
Sixty “passengers” got boarding passes, and were taken through security and immigration before boarding an Airbus A330 of Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines, where flight attendants chatted to them.
Then they they got off the plane and were given a meal in the airport’s food court.
On the topic of airline food, Thai Airways this month opened a pop-up restaurant at their headquarters in Bangkok, offering in-flight meals served to would-be travellers in airline seats.
Back here in Australia, airline caterers Gate Gourmet earlier this year started selling frozen meals and snack packs direct to the public from Brisbane Airport and Mascot in Sydney.
On the menu are dishes like “Grilled chicken chipolatas with creamy mash peas and onion gravy” and “Hokkien vegetable noodles with soy chilli and garlic” that just need to be heated in a microwave before serving.
In Japan, First Airlines — which offers travel experiences using virtual reality technology — is not a new service but it’s experiencing a surge in demand.
Grounded travellers sit in first or business class seats in a mock airline cabin where they are served in-flight meals and drinks, with flat panel screens displaying aircraft exterior views including passing clouds. They even get a pre-flight safety demonstration with a life vest and oxygen mask.
Once they “arrive”, virtual reality goggles provide immersive tours at destinations including Paris, New York, Rome and Hawaii.
Faking it for the ‘gram
People have been expressing their frustration in not being able to take holidays in other ways too.
Earlier this year, TikTok users started posting videos of themselves pretending to be on planes or going through the familiar airport rituals, often using the #travelathome hashtag.
Meanwhile, many of those yearning for simpler times when borders were less of a barrier took to recreating some of their favourite travel snaps for Instagram and Facebook for the #quarantinetravelerchallenge.
But while all this is an amusing distraction, it’s just not the same.
Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can start crossing borders again without coronavirus restrictions.