Hotel quarantine in NSW to end on November 1: Travel industry welcomes 'first step'

Travel operators have reacted with cautious optimism to NSW's lifting of the quarantine regime for fully vaccinated Australians and those returning from overseas, but say they're impatient for quarantine to be scrapped for all arrivals.

"It's good that they're being allowed in, but this needs to go much further, and soon," said Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond. "While we still have quarantine in place for international tourists, we won't be getting any tourists.

"It's also important for the wider prospects of the tourism industry too. As well as leisure tourists, we also need overseas students to be allowed back in, and backpackers who are a critical part of the infrastructure of the Australian tourism industry. We desperately need those workers."

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announced on Friday that, with the 80 per cent double-vaccination target about to be met, there'd be an easing of quarantine restrictions from November 1 for Australians to return and reunite with family in time for Christmas, and for Australians to leave and come back without having to stay in a quarantine hotel for 14 days.

The move sparked frenzied speculation that the relaxation could quickly be widened to all international arrivals but Prime Minister Scott Morrison stepped in to insist it will apply only to returning Australians.

"The Commonwealth government has made no decision to allow other visa holders, student visa holders, international visitors ... to come to Australia under these arrangements," Mr Morrison said.

But the move was still welcomed as an important first step in reopening Australia to the world – as long as the rest of the states follow, and other visitors will soon be included.

At the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), chief executive Dean Long said, "This is a really important day in Australia reconnecting to the rest of the world, and a great first step. But we still have a long way to go. While the road to recovery is underway, it's going to be difficult.

"The elimination of the quarantine requirement is one of the biggest barriers to international visitors wanting to come to Australia along with airline seat caps."

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A third of the travel sector – 15,000 jobs – were wiped out when Australia closed to the world, and airlines and cruise capacity still aren't expected to return to normal levels before the second quarter of 2022. Negative COVID-19 PCR tests will still need to be returned too before passengers are allowed to board planes.

But at least this is being seen as a start. On the back of the NSW Premier's statement, booking searches surged, according to hotel group Accor Pacific.

"The travel sector rebound will be significant, and our customers are telling us they cannot wait to get travelling again," Accor Pacific chief executive Simon McGrath said. 

"In Europe and the US, trends are emerging where smaller groups are travelling together – we think this pattern will form here in Australia, as people reconnect with friends and family.

"Now, with this news, NSW is readying itself to welcome back the world and this decision will give NSW a jump start on all other markets."

Airlines also reacted fast, with Qantas bringing forward the restart of its international flights by two weeks to November 1, saying it will operate up to five return flights a week from Sydney to London and four to Los Angeles.

"Bringing forward the reopening of Australia to the world and removing quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers entering NSW is a massive step towards life as we knew it," Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said .

"In just a little over two weeks, Australians around the world can fly into Sydney and people from around Australia can leave on trips they've been waiting almost two years to take. We hope other states will do the same once they reach the 80 per cent target."

Virgin Australia immediately extended its policy of free changes of booking if passengers needed to until April 30 next year. Its first international flights will be to Fiji on December 16 this year.

"We welcome the arrangements foreshadowed by the NSW Government to end quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers," said a group spokesperson.

"It's fantastic news for travellers, the aviation industry, and the thousands of businesses and communities in the state who rely on open borders and the economic injection that tourism provides ... We look forward to other states and territories also resuming inbound tourism for fully vaccinated travellers, once vaccination thresholds have been reached."

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