A travel industry roundtable in Sydney has urged governments to learn to live with Covid-19 and accept a higher risk threshold for the virus.
Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said governments were focused on eradication of the virus “and that was never the intention”.
The travel industry can live with this virus, we just need a level playing field and some sanity around border arrangements.
"I think we have a job to do to move public opinion [in Australia] from being that we must live in a Covid-zero environment to living in a Covid-normal environment where we live with this thing,” she added.
Sarina Bratton, chairman of cruise company Ponant, said the present mindset towards Covid-19 has "changed our thinking" about travel. "We've basically lost a lot of control of our lives," she said. "It's diminished a lot. Governments have got far more control."
The Sydney Opera House symposium was organised by the Nine Network, whose chief sales officer, Michael Stephenson, said there was an opportunity for travel brands to tap into “an openness, optimism and desire to travel, but it will require travel marketers to recognise that consumers now have a different set of needs that have to be addressed in order to convert intent into action”.
“The ‘new normal’ might have become a bit of a cliché,” said Stephenson, “but it’s a real thing when it comes to travel.
“Consumers understand and accept that there are new things to consider when planning a trip, and in return they are looking for flexibility and adaptiveness on the part of brands. Providing this will be key to conversion as the travel industry returns to growth.”
The symposium heard that underlying demand for travel remained strong, but the constant uncertainty and sudden border restrictions were destroying that appetite.
Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, said, "The travel industry can live with this virus, we just need a level playing field and some sanity around border arrangements.”
Tourism Australia’s Harrison said research shows people are more worried about becoming stranded due to snap border closures than they are about contracting the virus while travelling.
Supporting Harrison’s comments, Qantas chief marketing officer, Jo Boundy, said there must be "a national consistent approach to borders" because the constantly changing restrictions were creating too much uncertainty.
"People actually aren't so worried about the health and safety of travelling any more. It's about flexibility and disruption," she said.
“We have a border manual that we update on a regular basis in terms of where people can and can’t go," Boundy added.
“We’re up to version 182 [of the] manual, to give you a sense of the complexity that creates for tourism.”