The Australian tourism industry has called for urgent consultation with the federal government after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg flagged that international borders would remain closed throughout 2021 in an address to the National Press Club this week.
"International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time, and a vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget," Mr Frydenberg said.
Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) said the federal budget painted a "sobering picture" for the travel industry.
He said that while the industry had steeled itself for a closed international border into early 2021, the assumption that borders would only properly re-open in late 2021 demanded "more rigorous debate and engagement between industry and government".
"That new conversation needs to happen now," he said.
While ATIC welcomed the opening of a small travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, allowing New Zealanders to enter NSW, the ACT and Northern Territory, Mr Westaway said this measure alone achieved little for the industry.
"It's a start, but what's absolutely paramount is a realistic and even boundary-pushing plan to get our international market moving again and with a timeline," he said.
Dennis Bunnik, owner of Bunnik Tours and chairman of the Council of Australian Tour Operators, backed ATIC's call for a coordinated approach to borders and said thousands of jobs were at risk.
"Over half the 40,000 jobs that comprise the outbound travel sector have already been lost and those that remain are hanging on by a thread," he said.
"In order to survive we need targeted government support and a clear plan for opening borders with countries that have similar COVID risk profiles as Australia.
"With correct COVID-safe travel protocols in place, combined with rapid testing, we believe it is time to start opening some international borders."
While Australians are not currently allowed to leave the country except under special circumstances, many foreign nations are happy to welcome Australians without requiring any quarantine periods or restrictions on movement after arrival.
The UK, US, most of the European Union and Singapore are among the countries that all currently allow Australians to enter.
Earlier this week the Australian passport was ranked the world's second most powerful (behind New Zealand) thanks to the lack of travel restrictions foreign countries are placing on Australian travellers, due to our relatively effective handling of COVID-19.
But international travel bubbles seem far off while Australia's own state borders remain closed.
"The continued closure of some domestic borders due to political reasons is having a devastating impact on the travel and tourism industry as well as causing unnecessary angst and hardship for many thousands of Australians," Mr Bunnik said.
Data from the government's Tourism Research Australia for the June 20 quarter show domestic overnight visitor spend was down 80 per cent on the same time last year.
ATIC also called for the lifting of the cap on international arrivals, which has seen thousands of Australians around the world unable to get home.
"A further review in the current hard cap number needs to occur," Mr Westaway said.
He said the government needed to look at how two-way travel into and out of Australia could occur "in order to provide the hope required for the wider aviation, travel and tourism industry to have confidence in its future sustainability".