Australia has extended its ban on overseas travel until December 17, throwing Christmas plans into disarray for those who thought they could slip overseas.
There is a glimmer of hope that Santa could still smile on those with plans to go to Singapore or New Zealand, as the ban expires the day before Qantas announced it was planning to resume overseas flights.
But you’d need to be booked and ready to go. As we reported last week, Qantas and Jet Star were taking record calls.and there is no guarantee that the ban won’t be continued into next year.
The alternative for many is trying to book at home. But where are the vacancies? for thousands of families, it’s a cruel gamble with their break after a truly horrible year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today maintained that a family Christmas on on the cards. “I am bullish that if we stay the path we will get there,” he said.
But Health Minister Greg Hunt played grinch las week, announcing what could mean the end of some holiday dreams – including cruises. Many thought the big ships could return to Australian waters
The Biosecurity Act ban on overseas travel was extended, and it prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from Australian waters.
Mr Hunt’s announcement clearly caught many by surprise. Usually the Health Ministry makes the call the night before the last order expired.
But many operators were furious. They had pinned their hopes on the quickening pace of vaccines and felt October and November looked promising.
Cruise industry leaders are particularly upset that Australia is now the last nation with a history of attracting large numbers of cruisers to ban ships in its waters.
In Asia, Europe and America, almost all of the lines are back at sea. Royal Caribbean, for instance, has operated 459 sailings and carried 180,000 passengers since the middle of last year.
“Our discussions with government agencies have gone nowhere and our letters to the most senior levels of government have gone unanswered,” said Cruise Lines International Association Australasia Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said.
“More than a million passengers have sailed successfully in countries where cruising has resumed – with strict health protocols in place – but in Australia our calls for detailed discussions with health authorities have been ignored.”
Mr Katz said the cruise industry had presented some of the most stringent COVID-19 measures to be found anywhere in world tourism, developed with the support of medical experts and health authorities internationally.
At least two lines have scheduled sailings for December – Royal Caribbean has Ovation of the Seas, an Ultraclass vessel carrying over 4,000 passengers, scheduled to arrive for cruising until March.
P&O Australia has a Christmas cruise departing aboard the new Pacific Encounter on December 18th, followed by sailings into 2022.
Two lines are sailing, however. Coral Expeditions continues to sail its three small Australian-flagged ships around Kimberley and from Queensland, and has been doing so without incident for many months.
And APT has its Caledonian Sky vessel in Western Australia and is shortly to move to other state itineraries.
The smartest operator in the room – unless border closures are extended again – is Alan Joyce.
The Qantas boss said last week his airline planned to resume regular flights to London, North America and parts of Asia before Christmas. that Australia would have to hit 80 per cent vaccination levels before setting up travel bubbles with other countries that have high vaccination rates.
Tourism and trade minister Dan Tehan was cautious, and said it would depend on vaccine outcomes.
Travel operators at home are desperately hoping borders will reopen by Christmas as they face a crisis of bookings and cashflow with little government help. already, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost and billions of dollars worth of booking losses have slashed travel agent numbers by over 25 per cent.