Eliza Reid wasted no time in booking her first international holiday in years when the federal government announced its timeline for reopening Australia’s border.
- There has been an increase in holiday bookings, but departures from Australia are far from pre-pandemic levels
- The hesitation has changed the way we travel, with shorter delivery times between reservations and departures
- Navigating Travel After COVID-19 Restrictions Has Leaded to Renewed Interest in Travel Agents
The 30-year-old was optimistic and included visits to the UK, Morocco, France and Spain in her trip.
“We would have loved to travel earlier, but thought mid-2022 would be the safest,” Ms Reid said.
“We were pretty confident that the lockdown would not happen again and that things would only get better.”
Mrs Reid had to admit a few extra checks before departure than she would have before the pandemic.
She used the federal government’s Smart Traveler website to check the COVID-19 requirements for each of her destinations and carefully selected her flights, accommodation and travel insurance to ensure she would be covered if she contracted the virus on her trip.
Mrs 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 changed the way most Australians travel significantly.
Travelers’ hesitation sees “renaissance” for travel agents
Australian Federation of Travel Agents CEO Dean Long said persistent concerns that COVID-19 restrictions could reappear were behind a major change in the way people plan their travels.
“The window that people used to reserve used to be around 120 days, up to 170 [days] for Australians’ international travels, “he said.
“It’s now very rarely longer than 30 [days]. “
Sir. Long said travel agents had reported a strong recovery in business travel, with domestic bookings up 74 percent from lows in 2021.
However, international travel has had the strongest return, with airline sales rising 404 percent and 16 percent of all new inquiries to travel agents coming from people who had not used one in the two years before the pandemic.
Sir. Long said the travel lure steered many people into a travel agency because they sought help navigating the new travel world.
He said agents saw a “renaissance”, with people anxious to meet various entry and exit requirements, including pre- and post-departure tests as well as minimum levels of insurance coverage for COVID-19 medical expenses.
“They are really eager to know first-hand experiences of what it is like on earth at the moment,” he said.
Examine the key to traveling with confidence
The Insurance Council of Australia said travel insurance would never cover government-enforced border closures or travel bans because it would make coverage unaffordable.
It added that many policies would not cover cruises either, but that many cruise companies offered free coverage as an incentive to get people back on the water.
However, industry specialists 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 made sure all our flight and overnight reservations were refundable or flexible so that if something happened, we could move things around,” she said.
Her advice is backed by CHOICE travel specialist Jodi Bird, who says research is the key to choosing accommodation and transportation that people are sure will provide credit or a refund if travel is suddenly restricted.
“For example, we know with the Australian domestic airlines that if you book domestic, they will no longer cover for domestic travel bans, but currently they still cover if there is an international travel ban,” he said.
Mr. Bird warned travelers using an agent should not automatically accept the insurance policy offered to them.
“Before you go out and take out travel insurance, we might recommend just going home and doing a little research,” he said.
“You may be able to get better or cheaper coverage elsewhere.”
He said there were a growing number of complaints about travel insurance claims.
“I think a lot of travel insurance companies are still struggling with the sheer amount of damage, and they’re also trying to push back and enforce the loopholes in their coverage to get people to really jump through those loopholes so that you – as a consumer – really need to understand what you are [being] covered.”
Long way to return to pre-pandemic travel levels
While traffic through travel agencies has increased every month, Mr Long said there was still a long journey ahead.
About one million Australians flew abroad each month before COVID-19, but the latest official data available to the industry showed that there were only 375,000 departures in March 2022.
“What will be interesting will be how it starts to change towards the end of this year,” said Mr. Long.
“If we can return to a booking window of more than 60 days and suppliers continue to have very good refund and cancellation policies due to COVID, it will be crucial to regain that consumer confidence.”
For Mrs. Reid, who has embarked on her overseas journey, 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 it’s comforting,” she said.
“There are still restrictions [some counties’] high traffic areas – such as wearing masks at airports and on planes – but once we’re in the actual cities we travel to, you can just go your day as you usually do.
“It’s summer over here, and we go for a lot of walks, so we don’t wear masks when we’re outside.”
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