New research in Australia highlights that concern over border restrictions is quelling the appetite for travel more than worry over virus transmission

The voice of Australia’s national carrier has been strong throughout the COVID pandemic, especially when it comes to its return to scheduled international flying. However, over the last weeks of Dec-2020 the airline started to gradually re-open reservations for international flights starting from late Mar-2021.

Initially these cover the Trans-Tasman where a new travel bubble is being created, but later, from Jul-2021 also includes a wider range of global destinations. These comprise regional markets across the Pacific, into Asia and even including destinations in the United States (except Chicago and New York, to be added by 31OCT21), as well as the United Kingdom and South Africa.

It is clear that there is a more optimistic outlook as the COVID pandemic is better controlled and vaccines finally provide a longer-term solution to the crisis. But we have seen in the past few weeks that things can change very quickly with new variants of the virus now evident in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa and causing local concerns and also spreading more widely.

While international travel continues to be limited by COVID-fuelled travel restrictions, domestic travel is also impacted by regional restrictions, especially among many of the larger geographical markets, of which Australia is one of them. CTC – Corporate Travel Community analysis highlights that Australia started to see the return of domestic connectivity in late 2020, but international flights still remain limited.

Australia’s domestic air market started to show initial signs of recovery in late Nov-2020 (Source: CTC – Corporate Travel Community and OAG)

The Australian Airports Association (AAA) has acknowledged the New South Wales’ (NSW) recent Northern Beaches coronavirus cluster highlights how fluid the situation remains in Australia. It reinforces recent research of 500 Australians, commissioned by the AAA, which shows more than half of Australians who are willing to travel intestate are discouraged from booking airfares due to the risk of sudden border closures, rather than the potential health risks.

The AAA research, conducted between 14-Dec-2020 and 18-Dec-2020 to individuals who travelled by aircraft over the past few years, found 52% of respondents were discouraged from booking too far in advance because of border closures.

Residents in Tasmania had the highest level of concern, at 64%, followed by South Australia (61%), Queensland (59%), Australia’s Capital Territory (58%) and Western Australia (55%). In North South Wales levels fell below half (49%) but remained the biggest factor, while in Victoria (44%) and the Northern Territory (25%) levels were lower.

While border closures was the biggest overall barrier to travel for travellers it was not the only factor. More than two in five are concerned about potential health risks (45%), highest again in Tasmania (73%) and a concern for half of travellers in Southern Australia (53%) and the Northern Territories (50%).

The cost of flights (43%) is also a barrier to travel, highest in Australia’s Capital Territory (75%), while fear of having their travel cancelled or losing money from an unfulfilled booking (42%) was big concern, led by the Western Australia (51%) and Capital Territory (50%) states.

The research highlights that facemasks are a useful tool for addressing some of the barriers to travel, and that travellers are largely willing to take this action for their own benefit and that of others. Over four in five travellers (83%) say they would wear a facemask if they were travelling domestically, while around seven in ten (71%) say they would  be more confident in flying domestically if facemasks were made mandatory.

The willingness to wear a facemask is highest in Victoria (88%), while the perceived confidence from wearing one is strongest in North South Wales (74%) and Victoria (74%).

Overall, almost seven in ten travellers say they are confident in travelling outside the place they live (69% – 31% very confident; 38% quite confident). More specifically, over four in five (86%) suggest they would be willing to travel interstate, which would seem to highlight a strong level of confidence in domestic travel.

Positively, the findings show that willingness to travel domestically by air is consistently strong across states and territories. Overall that is an 83% acceptance rate, a figure that is highest in Queensland (87%), but slips slightly in Western Australia (78%) and Southern Australia (76%). The strong sentiment for air travel is positive, but only half (50%) say that form of transport provides the  most confidence for travellers, behind car (75%), but a long way ahead of train (14%), rental car (12%) and bus or coach (8%).

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