Australia home quarantine: End of hotel quarantine won't revive international travel say tour operators

Forcing Australians to home quarantine for five to seven days after a trip overseas still won't be enough to kickstart the struggling travel industry, sector experts are warning government.

Instead, they say the authorities need to have faith in the combination of the COVID-19 vaccination program, the testing regime and protocols like masks on planes, and scrap the idea of any kind of quarantine at all.

"Looking at jurisdictions overseas, once they have high vaccination rates and people coming in and testing negative, the need for quarantine is removed altogether," says Council of Australian Tour Operators chair Dennis Bunnik.

"To do anything else would be crazy. If we want to rebuild both outbound tourism and incoming tourism, we need to have faith in the vaccination levels, and see them as sufficient. Australians are wanting to see the reward for vaccination, and that should be freedom."

The demand comes as Australia inches towards opening its international borders, with vaccination rates steadily rising and Qantas announcing a reboot of overseas flight schedules from December 18.

While travel companies report record numbers of inquiries about flights, tours and cruises, they say that even replacing the current two-week mandatory hotel quarantine period with five to seven days' home confinement for returning travellers could kill incipient demand.

In addition, for international visitors to Australia, who'd then have to quarantine in a Government-nominated hotel, a regime of a week's isolation would still prove time-consuming, tedious and expensive.

"International tourists have choices of where they want to travel," Bunnik said. "If they can travel to Europe simply by being vaccinated and having a negative test, or can come to Australia and be locked up in quarantine, they're not going to choose Australia.

"We need to put our faith in vaccines rather than having protocols so onerous. They make travel completely impossible."


There's plenty of talk about travel at first resuming with countries reporting lower rates of infection and being open to fully-vaccinated travellers, with COVID-19 tests before they are allowed on planes and tests on arrival. However the   subject of quarantine is still festering.

At the APT Travel Group, with brands that include APT, Travelmarvel, Botanica and Captain's Choice, the complete removal of quarantine is also much preferred to safeguard the future of travel.

"Quarantine is obviously going to be a big consideration for Australian travellers," says chief operating officer Lorna Heyward. "I know it is for me. It's such a difficult hurdle for every aspect of travel; not just our passengers - how do you organise for air crews to come back into the country? And we're reliant on international people coming to work for us, so that's another quandary.

"Really, if we're double-vaccinated, do we really need quarantine at all? We're supportive of any barriers being removed to help international travel."

Not everyone is in favour of dropping every kind of quarantine so early on. Brett Mitchell, managing director of Intrepid Travel, believes there should be a system of five to seven days' home quarantine brought in at first, and kept in place until 80 per cent of the rest of the world receives their jabs.

"It's the biggest issue in travel: striking the right balance between being able to travel and keeping the community safe, and it's good to see New South Wales and South Australia experimenting now with home quarantine," he says. "But it's about returning to travel in a measured, safe approach so everyone has confidence back in travel.

"I think, in the short-term, a period of home quarantine will be needed until the world is 80 per cent vaccinated and we've got past the worst of the pandemic.

"That could be the first three to six months with some kind of home quarantine until people have tested negative which will allow us, in the long-term, to open up quicker, and we need to have a simple, consistent, reasonable and clearly-articulated approach through all the states," he says.

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