Australians are traveling more carefully after border closures and COVID-19 lockdowns


Eliza Reid wasted no time booking her first international vacation in years when the Federal Government announced its timetable for reopening the Australian border.

The 30-year-old was optimistic, factoring visits to the UK, Morocco, France and Spain into her trip.

“We would have liked to travel earlier, but we thought mid-2022 would be the safest,” Ms Reid said.

“We were completely confident the lockdown wouldn’t happen again and things were only getting better.”

Ms Reid had to factor in a few extra pre-departure checks that she would have had before the pandemic.

She used the federal government’s Smart Traveler website to check each of her destinations’ COVID-19 requirements and carefully chose her flights, accommodations and travel insurance to ensure she would be covered if she contracted the virus. during his trip.

Ms Reid’s decision to book the trip herself seven months before her departure date was common before the pandemic, but there are signs that COVID-19 has significantly changed the way most Australians travel.

Traveler reluctance sees ‘rebirth’ of travel agents

Dean Long says there has been an increase in people using a travel agent for the first time.(Supplied: AFTA)

Federation of Australian Travel Agents chief executive Dean Long said continued concerns over the re-emergence of COVID-19 restrictions were causing a major change in the way people plan their trips. trips.

“The window that people used to book was around 120 days, up to 170 [days] for international travel by Australians,” he said.

“It is now very rarely more than 30 [days].”

Mr Long said travel agents had reported a strong recovery in business travel, with domestic bookings up 74% from 2021 lows.

However, international travel saw the strongest return, with airfare sales up 404% and 16% of all new inquiries to travel agents coming from people who had not used one in the past. during the two years preceding the pandemic.

Mr Long said travel hesitancy drew many people to a travel agency because they were looking for help navigating the new world of travel.

He said officers were seeing a ‘renaissance’, with people keen to meet various entry and exit requirements, including pre- and post-departure testing as well as minimum levels of insurance cover for fees medical conditions related to COVID-19.

“They’re really keen to get first-hand experiences of what it’s like on the pitch right now,” he said.

Find the key to traveling with confidence

The Insurance Council of Australia said travel insurance policies would never include cover for government-imposed border closures or travel bans, as this would make cover unaffordable.

He added that many policies would not cover cruises either, but many cruise lines offered free coverage as an incentive to get people back on the water.

A boy pretends to lose his balance as his brother pushes him off what looks like a ledge to a lookout in front of the Matterhorn.
More and more Australians are willing to book a trip abroad, although travel insurance does not cover border closures.(Provided: Matte Brown)

However, industry experts say there are other ways to regain the confidence to travel and ensure that hard-earned vacations are not ruined by COVID-19.

In Mrs. Reid’s case, she made plans that could be changed if the need arose.

“We’ve made sure that all of our flights and accommodation bookings are either refundable or flexible so that if anything happens we can move things around,” she said.

His advice is backed by CHOICE travel specialist Jodi Bird, who says research is key to choosing accommodation and transport that people are confident will provide a credit or refund if travel is suddenly restricted.

“We know, for example, with Australian domestic airlines, if you book domestically they will no longer cover domestic travel bans, but, at the moment, they still cover if there is a ban on foreign travel,” he said. said.

Mr Bird warned that travelers using an agent should not automatically accept the insurance policy suggested to them.

“Before you go and get a travel insurance policy, we recommend, maybe, you just go home and do a little research,” he said.

“You might be able to get better or cheaper coverage elsewhere.”

He said there was a growing number of complaints about travel insurance claims.

“I think a lot of travel insurers are still dealing with the highest amount of claims and they’re also trying to push back and enforce the loopholes in their coverage, so people really jump through those loopholes, so you – as a consumer – really need to understand what you are [being] covered for.”

Long road to return to pre-pandemic travel levels

While traffic through travel agencies increases every month, Mr Long said there is still a long way to go.

An airplane on the runway at Rarotonga airport in the Cook Islands
Travel figures are still down from the start of 2019.(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

About a million Australians flew overseas each month before COVID-19, but the most recent official data available to the industry showed there were just 375,000 departures in March 2022.

“What will be interesting will be how that starts to change towards the end of this year,” Long said.

“If we can return to a booking window of longer than 60 days and suppliers continue to have very good refund and cancellation policies due to COVID, that will be key to restoring consumer confidence.”

A woman wearing bright pink clothes standing in front of a green and white striped building with a red door.
Eliza Reid booked her trip months in advance once restrictions began to lift.(Provided: Eliza Reid)

For Ms. Reid, who began her journey abroad, it was an incredible feeling to explore the world again.

“COVID cases are much lower in the countries we travel to, compared to Australia, so that’s heartening,” she said.

“There are still restrictions in [some counties’] high-traffic areas – like wearing masks at airports and on flights – but once we’re in the cities we’re traveling to, you can just go about your day as you normally would.

“It’s summer here, and we walk a lot, so we don’t wear masks when we’re outside.”

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