Locked down and locked out (and, in certain instances, locked up and deservedly so), quarantined, isolated, inoculated, boostered, bumped, cancelled, ripped-off, unrefunded, interrupted, disappointed and tested, sorely so, and in more ways than one. It's been a hell of a year for the international and domestic traveller.
Surely 2022 could not be any worse. Right? Hello? Despite it all, we remain resilient. We still keep booking travel in the hope that eventually the pandemic will resolve itself, or at least the inherent risk will be reduced and that our leaders will take their own personal responsibility and better manage our borders and the tourism industry.
Whatever the case, 2022 is set to be the year of the RAT (Rapid Antigen Kit, that is). But let's deal with this wretched past 12 months. To mark the end of the 2021, we present The Demmys (as in pandemic, geddit?), our special awards for the best and worst in what was effectively year two of COVID.
THE LEE KUAN YEW MEMORIAL RED TAPE AWARD FOR THE WORLD'S MOST BUREAUCRATIC DESTINATION TO VISIT IN A PANDEMIC
Singapore is the Switzerland of south-east Asia and the city island state more than cemented its reputation for efficiency as it reopened to tourism, albeit with strings attached, earlier in the year. The process of visiting Singapore involved literally hours of toil in front of a computer and printer - all so we could finally devour a plate of chicken rice in an authentic setting. But full marks to the Singaporeans for finding a way to revive their lucrative tourism industry, if on a limited basis. Sadly, it recently opted, due to the rampant Omicron variant, to pause inbound flights as part of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program. Let's hope this bubble doesn't go the way of many others, including the aborted trans-Tasman version.
THE TIM 'TEAM MEMBER' PAINE 'COME DOWN FOR FILTERED AIR' PRIZE
This year will go down as the year that once-innocuous interstate travel became a high-risk proposition. Less than a week after Tasmania reopening (marketing slogan: "Come down for air") to the two most populous mainland states, following a COVID scare, passengers on a Virgin Australia flight between Sydney and Launceston were ordered to get tested and quarantine for between seven and 14 days. A special mention should also be made of the Western Australian health authorities for their tendency to summarily quarantine perplexed and largely unknowing air passengers following sudden lockdown orders delivered mid-flight immediately on landing in Perth. If the Sandgropers haven't removed the misleading "Welcome to Perth" sign at their main airport there is still time to do so.
THE INTERNATIONAL RESILIENCE AWARD FOR THE BEST COVID COMEBACK BY A DESTINATION
The Yasawa islands in Fiji. Photo: iStock
The Demmy goes to the tourism-dependent Pacific island nation of Fiji, which went from having the highest per capita number of COVID cases in the world to among the least. A country of less than a million people and with a tradition of vaccine mistrust, the determined Fijians managed to vaccinate most of their adult, tourist-fronting population. It represents a truly remarkable national achievement, but with the advent of Omicron, one that may prove increasingly difficult to manage and maintain.
THE 'PANDEMIC? WHAT PANDEMIC?' AWARD FOR ETERNAL TRAVEL OPTIMISM
No two travellers, possibly in the entire world except for space nuts Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, have exhibited more sangfroid in 2021 about travel than Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake (above) in Tourism Australia's otherwise well-intentioned entreaties to "holiday here this year". For the power couple, no potential COVID travel complication was too daunting though we await their answer to Omicron with interest. A bouquet, though, to the federally funded TA for taking responsibility for domestic tourism promotion during an unprecedented industry crisis and at a time when its state and territory counterparts, with a few exceptions, largely failed to do so.
THE WOLF CREEK MEMORIAL AWARD FOR FOSTERING A LOVE OF OUTBACK TOURISM
There was a torrent of tough calls from health authorities this year in relation to travel but this one stands out. The Demmy goes to the South Australian Government for turfing passengers off a luxury train, en route to Adelaide from Darwin, following a COVID scare, in the middle of the desert and transferring them by bus - an object of hate for all rail fanciers - over 14 torrid hours to the SA capital where they were placed in quarantine. Talk about being derailed.
THE 'IF IT'S TUESDAY I MUST BE TOURISM MINISTER' CITATION OF THE YEAR
Federal tourism minister, Dan Tehan, who is also responsible for trade and investment in his portfolio, wins this award. Following the reopening of our border, he publicly welcomed foreign tourists back to Australia as soon as this month, only to be swiftly corrected and overruled by his PM. He explained that such international visitors would find themselves further along the queue of returnees in 2022, somewhat to the chagrin of an embattled tourism industry.
THE UNLOVED BOATS PERPETUAL ROUGH WATERS WHIPPING BOY PRIZE
The Ruby Princess at Port Kembla in April last year. Photo: Edwina Pickles
This award, of course, goes to the cruise industry, which it seems will never be even partially forgiven by (also negligent) government authorities for the Ruby Princess outbreak. As it eventuated, cruise lines, which are still banned from sailing in Australian waters, weren't the only so-called petri dishes with the aged care, fitness and nightclub industries, to name a few, also prone to major and deadly outbreaks. The big question for 2022 (make that 2022-23) is whether the cruising industry will achieve a hat-trick in missing out on a lucrative third domestic cruise season due to government intransigence.
THE GOLDEN DEMMY FOR NON-SERVICES TO THE DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL INDUSTRIES DURING A PANDEMIC
You guessed it, the award goes to Western Australia and its (NSW-born) premier Mark McGowan. Not content with Perth being reputedly the world's most isolated city, in 2021 the whole state of WA was rendered, rightly or wrongly, to be the most isolated, hermetically-sealed jurisdiction on the planet. It's all been a little like partying on a beach while you wait for a tsunami to hit. It's a lot of fun while it lasts but, save for a miracle, eventually the wave is going to arrive and you'll need to deal with it. Pity the poor WA tourism industry, or what remains of it.
Anthony Dennis is editor of the Traveller title in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.