As the clouds begin to clear over what has been a dreary and housebound year, Australians are finally finding themselves able to go on the holidays they’ve been fantasising about. With Covid restrictions easing and the borders between states finally opening up, it’s no surprise that people are itching to get away.
The life of lockdowns and the reset it has caused in what we consider to be ‘normal’ has everyone inspired to ‘get back to nature’, bake more bread, spend more time with the family, spruce up their garden, or reorganise their large collection of basketball jerseys. Consequently, there has also been an increase in outdoor and adventure style holidays and Tasmania’s recent domestic visitors numbers a great example of the result of this shift. The allure of gorgeous landscapes abundant with national parks and brimming with natural beauty regardless of weather has given the necessary motivations to get Australians to make that extra mile down to our southernmost state. However, would-be holiday makers are experiencing an unexpected disruption to their plans in the form of rental car shortages. In April, costs of hiring a car started at $337 per day compared with the usual $124. The limited public transport options within the state make having a car somewhat of a necessity to get around and see as many of the sights as possible. Visits home to reunite with families are being made a complicated affair forcing the reliance of said family members to provide means of transportation.
In an attempt to counteract this shortage, a subsidy was announced in January to allow passengers of the Spirit of Tasmania ferry to travel with their own vehicle for free. Travel on the ship arguably adds to the adventure aspect of the trip and may give peace of mind to many still sceptical to the use of air travel. With capacity for 1400 passengers on any given voyage, the facilities also provide state of the art entertainment including a cinema and an extensive bar. The only thing that might be said to be lacking is a snooker table or some dartboards and accessories – though probably best for the choppier of voyages. The subsidy is set to end in June, but reports suggest the $5.85 million was near exhausted at the end of its first month in March. When questioned, Tasmania’s Assistant Rural Tourism minister indicated that this ‘exhaustion’ along with the requirement for 6 extra night trips through May and June is proof that the subsidy was a success but did not comment on what would happen when the funding came to an end.
As an extra boost in national tourism, the government has also introduced a number of other incentives and financial support packages to increase the opportunities to travel whilst spreading the economic gains appropriately across the country. Recently we saw the Morrison government announce a number of ‘half price’ flights to further enable travel and jump start domestic flight after the drought seen by its providers. State governments have also released numerous rounds of ‘Travel Vouchers’ acting as a $200 cash back on regional and rural trips costing on which groups spend more than $400. This design has benefited hundreds if not thousands of Australians; both the recipients of these vouchers who may not otherwise have been able to afford it and businesses of destinations that have been crippled by the disappearance of international tourism.
Traditionally, big cities were popular destinations for Australian holiday makers with many cultural entertainment options such as live music, art galleries and museums. However, recently we have seen these establishments as closed as the airtight cabinets that hold these captivating displays and the nearest we’ve got to the exhibition wallsis through the screen of our personal devices. Bars, restaurants and clubs have all seen cut backs with limitations to numbers and rigorous requirements for bookings and customer registration. As the numbers of the virus have been much more prevalent in cities lockdowns have been stricter and longer – particularly in Metropolitan Melbourne. Between the increased risk of infection when in a densely populated area, and the higher likelihood of restrictions meaning people miss out on bookings for events and or establishments they may like to visit are closed, numbers of city escapes are not yet back to a Pre-Covid level.
Cancellations of trips, be it because of an inability to hire the car required to make it, or the risk of getting stranded or exposed to the virus, is an obvious concern to the tourism providers of Australia. While things have returned to a more flexible state in which numbers of bookings are near normal, there is no guarantee that no further outbreaks will occur. While international borders are still not poised to be opened anytime soon, the travel bubbles are starting to appear and talk of opening borders to international students is beginning to take shape and the demand for tourism capacity is only likely to grow.
Ensuring life can continue as close to normal as possible is a definite priority to the country at large and ensuring facilities are available to maintain the economy without our international visitors is a serious concern to many businesses and tourist attractions. Mainland Australia may not have the same concerns of hire car shortages, but staff shortages are equally concerning. Previously, a large proportion of the staff for hospitality positions and the likes have been filled in busy tourist towns by the likes of backpackers, here to travel around and keen to make some money where they can. Our fruit is picked by them, our farms are laboured by them and our taxes are often contributed to by them. Our tourism systems have always relied on international labour – it will no doubt be interesting to see how the country adapts.
Who knows what our post Covid world will look like in coming years, but with an inevitable increase in domestic travel coupled with the likelihood that ability to visit Australia will come sooner than the ability to travel overseas for a holiday, Tasmania could find themselves left off the ‘to do’ list if they cannot increase the number of cars available for hire!