Up until the arrival of nationwide pandemic-busting lockdowns, Australians were making more international trips than ever before. In 2018–2019, Australians embarked on 11.2 million trips overseas. Incredibly, this is more than double the number taken 10 years ago, according to figures posted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The international travel industry was booming. Massive competition and travel-industry incentives had crunched airline tickets back to the cheapest they had ever been. New budget airlines were popping up all over the place and the Aussie dollar was muscling its way up the international buying-power charts.
All this meant travelling overseas was a lot more affordable than it was a generation ago. In the 1980s, the price for an economy fare, Australia to Europe, cost in the region of $2000, about a quarter of the average punter’s annual salary.
Fast forward to now, when wages are far in-excess of what they were in the '80s, and airline fare prices have remained flat, untouched by inflationary pressures. In 1980 a pot of beer was about $1, today you’d pay closer to $5 — that's a 500 per cent inflationary mark-up. Not so the case for airfares.
Today, up until recently of course, an overseas holiday is not the luxury item it once was. Back in the 1970s and '80s, mainly because of steeper prices for overseas travel, most of us embarked on awesome driving holidays instead.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Well, my friends, it looks as if we’re going back in time. Back to a time when plane travel was off-limits to all except those with enough dosh to afford the steep fares. Now they’re off-limits because, yes, well, let’s not go there. It’s hard enough simply watching the nightly news without having to rehash here, on these pages, the latest coronavirus pandemic statistics and horror stories about self-entitled jackasses quoting sections of the Magna Carta to Bunnings’ staff because they feel a self-righteous need to buy a bag of nails, mask-free.
Are restrictions on overseas travel that bad? These days the facilities and infrastructure set up to cater for a full-bung driving holiday is far in advance of what it was in the '80s.
PEAK INDUSTRY BODY, THE CCIA, REMAIN CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC
“The resilience and determination of the caravan and camping industry and the people that work tirelessly within it continues to astound me,” Stuart Lamont, CEO of peak industry body, the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, said recently.
“We cannot regain or restore lost turnover caused because of COVID, however, with international travel still some time away, and other competitive industries suffering a crisis of confidence, we are already getting a taste for the resurgence in domestic travel.
"Caravan and camping has always been quintessential within Australian culture, and with a shift to a domestic travel focus, our industry is one which should be well set up to take advantage of this.”
Further to this, Keelan Howard, GM of marketing and communications at the CCIA, said, “Camping has always been popular but we believe it will become even more so now, with its natural propensity for social distancing, the safety inherent in a camping holiday is proving a winner.”
This is a key point. A camping holiday, especially one that only involves members of your own household, removes the likelihood of coming into contact with the contagion. This alone provides perhaps the strongest level of confidence that one could expect. Travelling with members of your own household removes many unknowns and allows individuals to control their own risk levels. Conversely, hopping on a plane or spending time in an airport leaves fate to the vagaries of chance.
“We are seeing interest from people who normally may choose an overseas or alternative style of holiday, which is fantastic,” Howard concluded.
THE FEDS INDICATE DOMESTIC TOURISM AS KEY PILLAR TOWARDS RECOVERY
Since the coronavirus outbreak took hold, the Morrison government has consistently spoken about a need to support the regional tourism sector. This could include providing some sort of consumer incentive designed to entice Australians to take domestic holidays.
In a recent interview, Australian Federal tourism minister, Simon Birmingham, said regional tourism required special attention because it was hit first by the recent catastrophic summer bushfires and then by the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australians spent $65 billion on overseas holidays last year, with international visitors spending $45 billion while holidaying in Australia.
Birmingham indicated that if Australians continue to spend confidently on domestic travel, while keeping in line with the changing face of restrictions and other impediments, this would help many small businesses stay in the game until economic headwinds caused by the virus lessen.
“Whether we can actually get people to do that, whether it is in the right places and the right regions and the same business is part of the challenge, and what we are working through right now,” he said.
TOP AUSTRALIAN BUCKET-LIST DESTINATIONS
So that big trip to Yosemite has been put on hold, a yearning to spend time in Italy’s Dolomites pushed to one side. We’re lucky to live in a country as diverse in natural beauty as Australia. We’re lucky that there’s natural home-grown replacements for these top-tier adventure destinations. Lake Argyle on the Ord River in north-east Western Australia is the world’s largest man-made lake. It’s a slog to get there, no doubt, but in terms of natural beauty, we think it’s comparable to some of the better-known global destinations.
Further to the east lies Kakadu National Park, a well-known but under-appreciated jewel in Australia’s oeuvre of natural wonders. Why not appease any lingering international wanderlust disappointment by booking a family safari to Kakadu? While not as famous as Africa’s Serengeti, it most definitely includes flora and fauna endemic to the region alone and nowhere else on Earth. Add it to your list.
The interior of Australia is a perfect place to self-isolate. With enough supplies and gumption, you could go years without seeing another soul. If complete self-isolation’s not your bag, you could start planning now for the ultimate in overland adventuring. A heroic dash across the Simpson with a few good mates. Definitely boy’s own adventure stuff.
Friends and family across the seas would give their eye teeth to have an adventure across the vast desert expanses of Australia’s interior in their crosshairs.
And the list goes on. With enough imagination, there’s a limitless array of adventure holidays you could plan in the next year or two without missing a beat. One could even forget that there is, in fact, a whole other world beyond our shores.
There are thousands of tropical offshore islands, the south’s high country, Tasmania’s rugged coastline and South Australia’s arid beauty. And that’s only scratching the surface. As Henry Lawson says:
Under the Southern Cross I stand
A sprig of wattle in my hand,
A native of my native land,
Australia, you little beauty.