travel

Health passports and expensive tickets: The likely reality of your next holiday.

Australia is doing well at suppressing COVID-19. Very well, actually.

Our new daily cases are hovering around a dozen, the Prime Minister is using phrases like “the road out”, and social distancing restrictions are being gently wound back in some states.

Of course, there’s a long way to go yet. A vaccine could be 12 months away, and public health measures will be part of our lives until that’s available.

But politicians, scientists and industry are beginning to explore how Australians might at least be able to start safely moving around again in the coming months. Be it travelling between cities, across state borders, or even to nearby countries.

All the travellers you’ll see at the airport.

Video by Mamamia
ADVERTISEMENT

So what will our first post-lockdown holidays look like? Where will we be allowed to go? And what will this crisis mean for airline ticket prices?

Let’s take a look.

The “health” passport.

More and more destinations are flagging the potential for an introduction of a “health” passport to ensure tourists are virus free when the world eventually reopens.

The Italian island of Sardinia, where the pandemic has crippled the local tourism industry, is keen to introduce them in time for the approaching northern summer which starts next month.

“Whoever boards a plane or a ferry will have to show (the health passport) along with their boarding pass and their identity document,” island governor Christian Solinas told Arab News.

Capri, Ischia and Panarea and Puglia in Italy, along with Greece, Turkey, and Chile are all also considering the option as well – as is the European Union.

The provisional name “COVID-19 passport” has been decided on by EU diplomats as discussions on the security certificate continue.

Where we’ll be able to go, and how soon.

It’s been more than a month since most Australians were able to take a holiday. The Prime Minister announced a ban on overseas travel on March 18, and a week later extended that to non-essential domestic trips.

But there is an end in sight in the coming months.

Speaking to Mamamia, UNSW’s Dr Tony Webber, a former Qantas Group chief economist, said the natural trajectory for easing travel restrictions would likely be this:

  • within-state travel by car (which is already permitted in some states);
  • within-state air travel;
  • interstate air and car travel;
  • regional air travel;
  • and, finally, international air travel.

“I think full-on international travel is about twelve months away,” Dr Webber said.

“But I think air travel domestically will probably happen within two months, and trans-Tasman travel will probably be another month after that.”

The trans-Tasman bubble.

Trans-Tasman travel to New Zealand is likely to be our first overseas-travel option thanks to both countries achieving a low COVID-19 caseload.

New Zealand this week announced it had eliminated community transmission of the disease, following its strict five-week lockdown.

Because of that success, the governments of both island nations are currently discussing the possibility of exclusively opening their borders to each other for business and tourism travel. Basically creating a ‘trans-Tasman bubble’.

ADVERTISEMENT

“New Zealand would be the natural partner where you might start to see some steps towards making sure people can travel safely,” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News.

Last year, New Zealanders were the second only to China in terms of the number of incoming passengers to Australia — 1.43 million Kiwis made the trip and injected a total of $4.6 billion into the economy, according to Tourism Australia data.

“The New Zealand coronavirus experience is very similar to ours, given both countries’ success. So it makes sense,” Dr Webber said.

“That route has a lot of what’s called VFR travel: visiting friends and relatives… So there will be massive pent-up demand.”

It’s unclear what restrictions would be in place to ensure the safety of travellers moving between the countries, but airport temperature screening and tracing apps have been floated as possibilities.

How travel will change: from vacant middle seats to higher prices.

It’s clearly not going to be business as usual for airlines, which have had to ground the majority of their flights over the past few months due to important travel restrictions.

The COVID-19 crisis has already claimed victims, among them Virgin Australia which entered voluntary administration on April 21.

The carriers that survive will not only have significant losses to recoup, they’ll be facing a host of expensive new conditions once they’re allowed back in the air.

In other words, expect your next plane ticket to cost significantly more.

A number of factors will influence that price rise. Key among them being social distancing.

Social distancing will be in place until there’s a vaccine. The Quicky investigates how that’s progressing. (Post continues.)

“If [authorities and airlines] believe that social distancing on the aircraft is necessary — which I think they will — the only feasible solution is to leave the seat beside you vacant,” Dr Webber said. “So you’re looking at a 33 per cent cut in capacity, which will typically translate into a 15 per cent increase in airfares.”

That’s on domestic flights.

On international flights, it will depend on the size and configuration of the plane, but Dr Webber pointed to a likely 10-20 per cent increase.

That 15 per cent hike doesn’t include the other costs that airlines will have to build into your ticket price. For example, additional sanitation measures.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Each time an aircraft lands and pulls into the terminal, they’ll have ground handling crew board to give the aircraft a good cleaning. Typically, I think that will involve almost wiping down every seat and tray, and probably even spraying the cabin with some sort of agent that kills the virus,” Dr Webber said. “That will add time and cost.”

Airlines will likely have these sorts of measures in place until the vaccine is widely available. And not just because they have to, Dr Webber said, but because it will be crucial to encouraging customers to fly again:  “People won’t board a plane unless they know that they’re safe, because it’s the perfect environment to contract these things if you’re not careful.”

One saving grace for airlines in the meantime will be oil prices, which are at record lows thanks to the drop in demand caused by coronavirus travel restrictions around the world.

“That will certainly help air travel keep costs down,” Dr Webber said.

The future of travel?

Higher prices and COVID-19 measures will be the new normal for some time. On top of that, the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus has hit Australians hard — an estimated one million people became unemployed in the past month due to COVID-19 restrictions.

So there will undoubtedly be fewer people able to afford trips interstate or overseas in the short-term.

But Dr Webber doesn’t expect this crisis will have a lasting impact on the way Australians travel in the years beyond that.

He points to our travel behaviour after the 2002/3 SARS epidemic, which spread globally from China and cost Asia-Pacific and North American airlines an estimated US$7 billion (AU$10.7bn today).

“During the epidemic, demand fell dramatically,” he said. “But the positive increase in demand that we saw after SARS was actually greater than the decrease in demand that we saw while it was happening; such was the pent up demand, such was the return back to normality.

“I think the same thing will be happening here. Aussies will be itching to get out of their house and travel.”

Want to feel better in 5 minutes a day? We’ve got you covered with the Mamamia 7 Day Wellbeing Challenge! With easy to understand prompts each day, you’ll learn strategies and techniques to help improve how you feel in 5 minutes. Ready to join us? Sign up here.

Read more about COVID-19:

Feature image: Getty.

00:00 / ???