New realities of travel: Where you’ll be able to go
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is surely the folly of predicting the future, but it feels safe to presume that normality will not be returning to travel and tourism in 2021.
Qantas's international fleet will remain grounded until July, and while the federal government initially believed the world would re-open to Australia all at once (with the early exception of New Zealand), it is now likely that international borders will open in a more piecemeal way.
"The situation for international travel is looking pretty bleak for 2021," tourism expert
Associate Professor Pierre Benckendorff from the University of Queensland told News Corp.
"The head of the international air transport association made a prediction a couple of months ago that international aviation was unlikely to recover back to 2019 levels until 2023, and I think that seems like a pretty accurate prediction."
It was reasonable to assume borders with New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa would be open in the first half of 2021, Assoc Prof Benckendorff said, while some countries in Asia with good virus controls such as Singapore, Vietnam and Japan might open up in the second half of the year.
Domestic tourism is set to benefit in the interim, with industry reports and University of Western Australia research suggesting travel by car will be more popular than ever before.
Some industry experts have suggested that international business travel may resume quicker than holiday travel, largely because corporate passengers tend to fly point-to-point and their movements can be more tightly tracked, and controlled by company policies.
But the 'Airport Economist' Tim Harcourt said two trends would also work against business travel: the "flight-shaming" movement that was already starting to make an impact pre COVID-19, and the increasing popularity of online business meetings.
"People will still go places but the frequency might come down," he said. "Zoom calls seem to have worked quite well and a lot of people have found working from home relatively efficient in certain professions."
Assoc Prof Benckendorff said some countries would likely demand tests for the virus prior to flying, as well as signed passenger declarations about recently visited areas. Safety in the air will take on new meanings as airlines introduce measures to limit transmission, with Qatar Airways recently mandating the use of full transparent face shields for passengers.
Experts are also expecting variation in airfares in 2021.
"Initially we will see some very cheap airfares to entice people to travel again," said Assoc Prof Benckendorff. "But then I would expect the airfares to go up once the tourists are flowing again, just because these airlines are in a fairly precarious financial position."
The man they call the "Points Whisperer", frequent flyer program expert Steve Hui, said the airlines "will push out more ways to earn points" in 2021.
"They'll also make more land-based offers," he said. "Qantas for example will give you more options to redeem your points for things like wine or hotels."
Mr Hui had been hoping to book a trip to Toyko for the 2021 Olympics but he said it was "looking tough".
The rules that currently prevent Australians from travelling overseas without a government exemption would probably be relaxed in the first half of 2021, Mr Hui predicted, with more freedom coming in the second half of the year as a COVID-19 vaccine became more likely.
Travel insurance will also be forced to adapt when borders re-open, as consumer demand for policies that reimburse for sudden itinerary changes will be strong.
A spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Australia told News Corp that the industry was grappling with the complexities of the virus, but it was too soon to predict what policies would look like. Pre-coronavirus, 90 per cent of Australians took out travel insurance when flying overseas, the spokesperson said.
Even greater uncertainty hovers over Australia's $5.2 billion cruise industry, with no start date set for the 2020/21 season. In a worrying sign, UK cruise line company CMV was recently placed into administration.
Joel Katz from the Cruise Lines International Association said cruising would likely return in a "carefully phased, regional approach".
"In Australia this might mean short domestic cruise itineraries, for Australians only," he said. "With health measures in place, cruises might operate on restricted intrastate or interstate itineraries. At the appropriate time, this could be extended to involve a trans-Tasman bubble or carefully managed operations in the South Pacific."
Originally published as New realities of travel: Where you'll be able to go