Australia’s border has reopened after more than 18 months. While the thrill of international travel is back on the agenda, the pull of a domestic holiday is stronger than ever, writes Kate Symons.
Like Peter Allen, I too have been to cities that never close down. From New York, to Rio and old London town. Over the past 18 months, I have been dining out on memories of those incredible adventures… and others. The friends I’ve made, the sights I’ve seen, and the sense of freedom I now know I was taking for granted. I am not alone. Throwback travel photos have been Instagram de rigueur while Australia’s borders have been firmly closed in an effort to protect us from this… must I say its name? Surely it’s had enough airtime.
Now, the international border is open. OK, there are caveats, as one would expect, but it is finally open. Overseas travel is back on the agenda. I’m thrilled, but I’m also a little surprised to learn I’m actually in no hurry to escape. There is, after all, unfinished business to attend to.
Finding new travel destinations in our own backyard
Australians are renowned travellers and, despite closed borders, the pandemic has proven as much. Rather than wait it out, many of us have determinedly sought fresh ways to get our travel fix. With domestic travel the only option, we went about designing local holidays with a difference, whether they be off the proverbial beaten track or perhaps more luxurious or experience-driven than usual.
Explore the rocky coastline of Kangaroo Island.
Tourism Australia managing director, Phillipa Harrison says the change in circumstances forced travellers to look at domestic destinations from a new perspective. “One thing we found as we set to market domestically again for the first time in a decade, is that we may not know our backyard as well as we think we do,” she explains.
“Domestic holidays people take tend to be similar each year and the research and dreaming goes into the big overseas trip. Through the many aspects of our Holiday Here This Year campaign, we have tried to show the depth and breadth of Australian experiences – those that are so loved on an international stage – and Australians have responded with enthusiasm!”
Visit, or revisit, Uluru.
Although it aged well, Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign originally launched in January 2020, before the ‘C word’ had caused much of a stir on our shores. It was in response to the 2019-20 bushfire crisis, tapping into research that shows Australians are compassionate travellers, particularly regarding domestic destinations.
While few would have predicted the situation would worsen, history will show those relentless bushfires were followed by a global disaster from which Australia was also not spared. The tourism sector, in particular, has suffered. While Holiday Here This Year has helped – overnight trip expenditure in Australia was up seven per cent in April and nine per cent in May this year, compared to pre-COVID numbers – outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns have slowed momentum and dented consumer confidence. Then there’s the small matter of the 9.4 million international visitors Australia traditionally welcomes each year – gone.
“Altruism, in my research, has come through time and time again when it comes to people’s motivations for travel following any kind of crisis or disaster, particularly in Australia,” says University of Queensland associate professor Gabby Walters, a specialist in tourism crisis recovery. “It’s part of our culture to really want to help out our own.”
But as we all start to focus on the return of long-haul travel, now is not the time to relinquish support. It is time to reiterate the call to arms. “There are incredible destinations and tourism experiences right here on our own doorstep waiting to be explored,” says Harrison. “Even [with] our international borders open we can still head off on the domestic holiday of a lifetime and tick some items off our holiday bucket list. I hope this will be a legacy and the silver lining for our time of being unable to travel abroad – that we have all fallen in love with our wonderful country again.”
This isn’t charity. A holiday in Australia is an incredible prospect and something we are truly fortunate to have at our fingertips. Even better, a holiday in Australia can be just about anything you want it to be.
Sure, our geographical isolation has helped create an insatiable craving to explore, to immerse ourselves in different cultures, landscapes and experiences. Yet, to do so abroad means we are bypassing 7.7 million square kilometres – including 5.6 million square kilometres of outback and 34,000 kilometres of coastline – of our own pristine homeland that offers the very thing we’re searching for.
An aerial view of Roebuck Bay coastline in Broome Western Australia.
Safety continues to be the top priority for travellers
There is no doubt that our travel behaviour will change as a result of our COVID-19 experience. And it will change in different ways for different people.
Tourism Australia survey data shows that 75 per cent of people believe the vaccine has given them the confidence to travel in Australia again, a figure that dropped to 58 per cent when discussing international travel.
Professor Walters, whose study, Good times ahead for Australia’s Tourism Industry: Proceed with Caution was published in 2020, suggests the presence of a phenomenon known as the ‘home is safer than abroad’ bias. “Basically, [the bias] implies that people tend to rate their home country as less risky than foreign countries,” she explains. “The reason for that is the familiarity. We know what to expect in our own country, we know we can get good health cover or good medical attention when we need it. We know and can possibly predict how our government is going to respond if there’s an outbreak. There’s more certainty around what’s open, and what’s available and what’s not.
Check into Melbourne’s United Places and picnic in the Botanic Gardens on its doorstep. (Image: Emily Weaving)
“Before COVID, that didn’t come into play as much in terms of where people would go and what they would tolerate as being all part of an experience abroad … but I think those days are coming to an end now for a lot of travellers.”
For those who do start window shopping overseas destinations, the COVID-19 management and safety standards of prospective countries will likely be key considerations. Meanwhile, those browsing Australia’s extensive catalogue can do so with greater confidence.
Australia’s hot list
Our confidence is growing daily, as is our Aussie bucket list. We’ll re-book that cancelled trip to Tasmania and explore the state’s exquisite east coast with a revitalised gratitude.
Take on Tasmania’s Three Capes Track. (Image: Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service)
We’ll make our way to Kangaroo Island, where natural wonders abound, or return to Uluru, where the connection to Country is deeply visceral, deeply moving. We’ll revisit our favourite holiday hotspots and finally book a stay at properties we’ve long had a crush on.
Lounge by the pool at Crown Towers Sydney. (Image: Crown Hotels)
We won’t forget our major cities, the destinations that have perhaps suffered most from the tourism lull. We’ll revel in Melbourne’s cultural delights, its wonderful cafe scene, its consummate street style. We’ll do what we can to help this incredible city recover. We will buy tickets to events. We will maintain our picnic habit. We will keep adding to this list.
Check out La Madonna Restaurant + Bar at Next Hotel Melbourne.
Me? I’ll indulge in Sydney staycations, exploring my hometown with the awe it deserves – enjoying world-class beaches, splashing out on harbour-view hotel rooms, and getting to those bars and restaurants that have spent too long on my to-do list. I will pop up to Brisbane and meet my new nephew. I will visit Western Australia for the first time in more than 20 years. Broome is top of the hit list – and yes, I want to ride a camel at sunset.
And again, Peter Allen’s famous tune plays in my head as I consider how lucky I am to call Australia home.
Ride a camel at sunset in Broome, WA.