24 February 2022

Slow tourism take-off despite border re-opening, but Canberra well placed to benefit

| Lottie Twyford
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Two hot air balloons near Parliament House

Despite Australia’s international borders re-opening, tourism experts say it will take time for things to really take off again. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

While it welcomed the reopening of ‘Fortress Australia’ on Monday (21 February), Canberra’s tourism industry says the recovery will be gradual.

Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall said it would take at least a year to 18 months “before any sort of resurgence” in the international tourism sector.

He said uncertainty and the scale of job losses suffered across the industry led the reasons.

It is hoped the end of borders will entice travellers, migrants and international students back to fill many of the roles they performed previously.

Mr Marshall said the Bush Capital could also benefit in the short term from the domestic market, expected to gather steam long before the international sector.

He said Canberra should be well placed because 90 per cent of its tourists arrived from NSW and Victoria.

“As restrictions are lifting and people are getting more confident, we will see that impact [in the ACT],” he said.

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Mr Marshall said Canberra was a prime “driving” location for international visitors and domestic travellers from Sydney and Melbourne who may still feel uncertain about flying.

“We’re also a safe location – the most vaccinated city in the world and we’ve got space.”

Mr Marshall said Canberra’s profile needed to be raised and its major events and blockbuster exhibitions spruiked to attract interstate visitors.

He said it was important to capitalise on visitors closer to home because Australia’s largest tourism markets effectively remained locked out by international uncertainty about snap border closures.

“In the United States, for example, they are still being advised not to travel to Australia because of the amount of COVID-19 in the community,” Mr Marshall said. “And people in the United Kingdom are reluctant to travel such a long distance when there is this uncertainty around closed borders.”

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A recent survey of Britons showed only six per cent would be willing to travel to Australia in the short term.

Other major markets such as China and New Zealand are still effectively shut.

Mr Marshall said many international visitors weren’t necessarily touching down as “tourists”. Instead, the majority were visiting family and friends.

He said there was also concern the borders re-opening came after the traditional summer holiday when many tourists travelled to Australia.

“People in the Northern Hemisphere are travelling already, but they’re travelling shorter distances … they still don’t really trust Australia.”

He said while it would take time for Australia to win back the confidence of overseas travellers, he was confident Canberra and the region stood to benefit as tourists started arriving in Sydney and Melbourne.

“There will be a spillover into the ACT, it’s just that it’s going to take some time.”

planes at airport

Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways operated out of Canberra Airport prior to the pandemic. Photo: Canberra Airport.

Before COVID-19, Canberra hosted about 280,000 international visitors a year. Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines operated international flights in and out of the national capital.

The pandemic put a major spanner in the works for Canberra Airport’s plans for daily connections to China, New Zealand and Vanuatu and other international destinations by 2040.

A spokesperson for the airport said there was still no indication about when international carriers would consider resuming operations.

Mr Marshall said he was aware of ongoing talks with Singapore Airlines – who previously operated international flights from Canberra for three years until September 2020. But it would take substantial time before the market was again viable and serviceable.

In November last year, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the aviation industry needed time to recover before international flights resumed from Canberra.

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