Australia state border closures: Latest lockdown is the last straw for domestic tourism

In those now distant days when we were able to travel overseas, the federal government site Smart Traveller provided useful information and guidance on the dangers and annoyances - as Lonely Planet liked to call them - you might encounter when holidaying overseas.

Now what we need urgently is a domestic travel warning equivalent. The truth is that holidaying here this year, despite Hamish and Zoe's unrelenting "holiday here" optimism, has become one long danger and annoyance.

Imagine how helpful the warnings for travel to various Australian states and territories could be: "Smart Traveller (domestic edition) strongly warns against travel to Western Australia which is ruled by an all-powerful iron-ore fisted leader. Unsuspecting travellers from the so-called Eastern States could find themselves quarantined the instant they arrive in this increasingly rogue state."

The latest COVID-19 outbreak and inevitable lockdown in Queensland couldn't have come at a worse time for Australian tourism. Well at least since the last worst time for tourism, and the worst time before that one.

But this latest shutdown seems different. There's now a strong whiff of straw about it for travellers - and it's the last straw. For despite the sunny Hamish and Zoe and even more sunny pleas by those latest travel expert recruits, The Wiggles, the risk of booking a domestic holiday has become too extreme.

The edicts of state and territory governments, while designed mostly to rightly safeguard public health, are continually undermining every largely well-intentioned initiative of their federal equivalent and its well-funded tourism marketing agency.

With no real plan that we know about for the reopening of international borders - let alone a strategy to avoid lockdowns - and combined with a vaccine roll-out more sluggish than a Liberal politician's comprehension in empathy class, our governments appear to be bankrupt of ideas to revive travel.

The federal government's controversial 800,000 half-price air fares campaign, with its selective and political focus on destinations, is to be launched this week under less-than-ideal travel conditions.

And an understandably nervous New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is, or was, set to next week announce the date when the full trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia will start.

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The Kiwi leader seemed decidedly lukewarm on this last week when she expressed her frustration, in terms of finalising a bubble, in navigating the complex state and territory rules and permits for travel and those Wiggles skivvy-like colour-coded warning systems.

Australians also seem to have gone lukewarm on the idea of the long-awaited travel bubble, with data from media monitoring company Streem showing that Australian media interest in the topic has hit its lowest level for six months, even as coverage has increased across the Tasman.

Prime Minister Ardern has also warned that when a full trans-Tasman bubble is confirmed it will come with a caveat that New Zealanders could find themselves stranded in Australia should borders suddenly lock down.

An unplanned 14-day quarantine stay imposed by West Australian authorities in the event of an outbreak could cost visitors there at least an additional $2100 based on a $150 night hotel (almost $2300 in Kiwi currency).

If politicians such as the federal tourism minister, Dan Tehan, want us to spend big on travel in order to aid the economy and ailing tourism-dependent destinations, many of them in Queensland, they need to devise a proper plan, not just another celebrity marketing campaign.

Until then, with more of us having been victims of border closures and shock lockdowns, tourism will continue indefinitely as a fundamentally stop and start proposition, with the potential for all travel-hungry consumers stopping in destinations for much longer than envisaged.

More and more people will eventually give up holidaying interstate all together. The risk and potential expense may prove to be much too great to be worth the trouble, with many Australians already believing domestic travel is overpriced and subject to price-gouging.

Anthony Dennis is editor of Traveller in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald

See also: Our governments ruined tourism and now they want you to fix it

See also: Think countries are opening up now there's a vaccine? Think again

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