Tourism leaders call for consistent border regulations as state ‘overreactions’ impact consumer confidence

Some of Australia’s tourism industry leaders have called for a consistent federal approach to domestic border closures in order to improve consumer confidence in the struggling tourism market.

Speaking at Nine’s State of the Nation travel event today, Australian Pacific Holdings’ (the parent company of APT Travel Group) group managing director Chris Hall said the “overreactions” of states suddenly closing their borders to travellers in different areas of the country was coming at the detriment of Australia’s tourism industry.

Phillipa Harrison, Sarina Bratton, Jo Boundy and Chris Hall on stage at Nine’s State of the Nation

“When you get consistency of opening, immediately you see the result of that. So what I think of what the industry’s done, some have pivoted to really bolster domestic programs, as we have, and so long as you’ve got confidence around the borders people will book,” Hall said.

“And I don’t think we’re needing to do a whole lot of monetary incentives or anything like that. It’s confidence incentives…  and unfortunately some of that is out of our control so that’s where we need the states to understand the impact of those over reactions – what they do to the industry.”

Hall used the example of states reacting against the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney over the Christmas period to show how the lack of consistency has caused consumer confidence to “dwindle”, observing that domestic tourists ‘nearly stopped booking’ future travel between mid-December to mid-January.

Qantas chief marketing officer, Jo Boundy, added: “I think you’ve got to have a national, consistent approach to borders.”

Phillipa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia, said the nation needs to change its mindset when it comes the pandemic and accept a higher risk associated with the virus to make politicians more comfortable with keeping borders open.

“Politicians are reflective of their constituents, if you like, so they are listening to their medical advisors but they’re also listening to public opinion and I think we have a job to do to move public opinion from being that we must live in a COVID-zero environment to being living in a COVID-normal environment where we live with this thing,” Harrison said.

“I think if there was more community acceptance – because somewhere along the way it went to eradication, right, and that was never the intention – and I think if consumers or if constituents are happy living with some higher level of risk then I think that there would be more [motivation] for the states and for the federal government to be… less reactive.”

Conversation on the panel was instigated by addressing the low consumer confidence in domestic travel, particularly interstate due to constantly-changing border restrictions.

Harrison explained that “the biggest issue we have at the moment are snap border closures, and what that means is that consumer confidence takes a dip every single time that happens.”

Subsequently, consumer concerns about becoming stuck in different states “is bigger than travelling and catching COVID”.

Boundy quipped that Qantas’ border manual outlining where people in different states can travel is “up to version 182”.

Later in the panel, Boundy went on to describe the measures Qantas has taken to address consumers’ qualms about travelling during the pandemic, such extra cleaning, availability of hand sanitiser, and changes to the food and beverage offering. And now to meet concerns about disruption to travel plans Qantas has introduced ‘ultimate flexibility’.

“It’s a fundamental shift in aviation and revenue management, and our fare class system; where the more you pay the more you unlock and the more flexibility you have,” Boundy explained.

“We’re now letting customers change their flight that they book as many times as they want until January 2022.

“We’ve had to review our entire end-to-end customer experience but it’s been critical because confidence, we’ve got to instil that confidence and make sure that people feel confidence to book and that they’re not going to get disrupted and also confidence for their health and safety.”

In the cruise industry, Ponant chairman for Asia Pacific, Sarina Bratton, outlined how the company had been working with the Departments of Health, Transport, Immigration, Agriculture and the border force to create a framework for the resumption of cruises.

“It goes through different layers, so for example up to 300 passengers, up to 1,000 passengers, beyond 1,000 passengers. And so the idea being that the federal government will have this framework and that each of the states and territories could then decide whether or not they want to actually embrace any of that,” Bratton said.

“They might say ‘well we only want to do small ships’, for example, which could be to affect the Kimberley operations. The east coast might say ‘well we want some of the bigger guys but later in the year’.

“So there is a bit of a framework there but none of that’s going to work if we don’t have the borders operating.”


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