Australians increase domestic trips with cautious last minute bookings, while Trans-Tasman bubble seen as step in right direction even though restrictions apply

Australians have always been keen travellers. In normal life they tend to venture outside of Australia as teenagers and take every opportunity to explore the rest of the world. In times of Covid-19 however that’s simply not possible as international travel restrictions look set to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that Australians are taking the time to explore their own country with the recent Sep-2020 school holiday period seeing a vast increase in domestic tourism bookings even compared to the Jun-2020 holidays.

Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia all recorded higher booking levels three weeks before the September holiday than were seen for the June holiday. Northern Territory saw the biggest increase in bookings with a +139% increase in occupancy three weeks before the Sep-2020 holidays than for Jun-2020.

Queensland recorded a +125% increase in booked occupancy three weeks prior to the Sep-2020 holidays compared to Jun-2020. New South Wales occupancy was up +83% from Jun-2020 levels. Just one week before the Sep-2020 school holiday, week commencing 14-Sept-2020, saw more bookings than had been seen in the actual full Jun-2020 holiday.

These figures have recently been released by global travel technology company Amadeus through its Demand360 solution. The company compared Australian holiday booking data between the June holiday period (21-Jun-2020 to 25-Jul-2020) with the September holiday period (13-Sep-2020 to 17-Oct-2020).

With different states and territories under various levels of restrictions, most bookings are being made during the seven days prior to travel in order to be sure that travel is going to be permitted. During the June holidays, Victoria saw a significant occupancy increase (from 4.8% in early June to 32.3% for the actual holiday period). However, when Victoria went into lockdown in Jul-2020, occupancy was of course impacted and remained relatively flat.

South Australia and Western Australia enjoyed more relaxed restrictions so travel continued to be permitted. South Australia recorded an occupancy increase of +211% one week prior to the Sep-2020 holiday, up from 1.8% in late Jun-2020 to 5.6% in mid-Sep-2020, and Western Australia saw occupancy up 48%, up from 11.3% in late Jun-2020 to 16.7% in mid-Sep-2020.

International visitor arrivals into Australia were down two-thirds across the first eight months of 2020 (source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and Tourism Australia)

In a positive move, a trans-Tasman bubble has been created between New Zealand and the states of New South Wales and Northern Territories starting from 16-Oct-2020. It’s only one way at the moment so while air links are being created, New Zealanders are the only ones permitted to travel to either state without quarantine on arrival in Australia. However, the kicker is that they will have to self-isolate for 14 days on their return home.

Many are unsure how attractive this bubble will prove but at least it’s a step in the right direction with a door being pushed ajar. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce cautiously welcomed the agreement, saying: “This first phase of a travel bubble with New Zealand is the best news the industry has had in months. New Zealand was Australia’s second-biggest source of visitors before the pandemic. It’s obviously about to go straight to number one”. Joyce added that he hoped it wouldn’t be too long until travel from Australia to New Zealand is approved.

It is hoped that the bubble will open up to more states and become two way as the Christmas holiday approaches. Even if they can’t go too far, Australians are looking at domestic travel with a keener eye than in the past, which is something the domestic tourism industry is happy to see continue.

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