Desperate tourism industry calls for national approach to pandemic travel

The Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) is calling for a “national approach” to managing Covid-19 after a Christmas and new year period plagued by delays, cancellations and ruined holiday plans.

With a surge in positive cases of the virus creating unprecedented demand on testing centres to meet cross border travel requirements, thousands of Australians have had a stressful end to the year despite it being touted as a return to normal as restrictions eased across most of the nation.

Many flights were cancelled in the lead up to Christmas and New Year's Eve due to airline staff being forced into isolation and travellers cancelling or delaying their plans when they couldn’t get a test in time to travel.

People line up at the Histopath pre-departure COVID testing clinic at Sydney International airport.
Fear of the virus and cross-border travel requirements have created headaches for travellers during the Christmas/new year period. Source: Getty Images

QTIC CEO Daniel Gschwind said operators were looking forward to the first normal Christmas holiday period in two years, but strict border crossing rules and the lack of a consistent national approach had largely prevented that.

“The last two years have been extremely difficult and costly for the tourism industry across Australia with total losses nationally from domestic and international tourism estimated at more than $125 billion,” Mr Gschwind told Yahoo News.

“The opening of state borders on December 13 brought a sense of optimism about the Christmas holiday period to the industry and, importantly, it immediately brought a welcome boost to bookings from interstate travellers for destinations across the state."

However the optimism was short-lived.

“Subsequent difficulties for prospective interstate travellers to comply with PCR testing requirements and a lack of clarity about close contact rules for tourism and hospitality staff did throw a temporary spanner into the works.

“Some trips did end up being cancelled, despite more than 400,000 interstate arrivals since the border opening and some businesses faced imminent closure due to staff shortages caused by close-contact-quarantining requirements.

“After two years of Covid disruptions, including the latest challenges, it will take some time to restore confidence for consumers and for the tourism industry.

“A consistent, transparent, national approach to manage the now-endemic Covid situation will help to shape a recovery – for consumers, for tourism businesses and for the community,” Mr Gschwind said.

An information board displays cancelled flights at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan.
The omicron variant was blamed for around 3,000 flight cancellations globally on Christmas eve. Source: Getty Images

The tourism boss said it was “an enormous relief” the Queensland government had removed the requirement for pre-departure PCR tests from January 1, but so much damage has already been done for one of the sector's busiest periods.

A global surge in Covid-19 positive cases, blamed on the Omicron variant, caused more than 3,000 flights globally to be cancelled, the Sydney Morning Herald reported last week.

Around 80 domestic flights at Sydney Airport and 52 at Melbourne Airport were cancelled on Christmas eve due to isolation requirements affecting staff levels.

A Qantas spokesperson told Yahoo New Australia the airline had not seen a “significant number” of travellers cancel their flight plans in the lead up to new year, adding that the carrier did not record or disclose reasons for passenger cancellations.

Tourism Australia declined to answer Yahoo News Australia’s request for comment on the disruptions.

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