October 7, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) Chair Tom Manwaring says it will be six to nine months for the airline sector to rebuild on any scale.

His remarks follow the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that Australia’s international border will partly reopen, allowing Australian citizens and permanent residents who are vaccinated against COVID-19 more freedom to travel in and out of the country.

In an interview with the BBC in recent days, Manwaring said Australia had been in an international travel lockdown for 600 days and that the resumption of more flights and opening up of more seats on flights already operating into Australia, would be very welcome.

“The main issue is we have 42 airlines flying into Australia so there are lots of seats available, but the problem is the Government cap on the planes which only allows 30 to 50 passengers per aircraft.

Manwaring is also CEO and co-owner of Express Travel Group. He said that Australians book around 70 percent of their outbound international flights through travel agents so AFTA members were looking forward to the lifting of travel bans.

The reaching of vaccination thresholds and the opening up of international flights were very welcome steps towards a return to a more normal existence.

“Our sector is grateful for the government support but would require ongoing support as the international travel market would not normalise for some time,” he said.

He indicated the important first steps was the removal of caps now in place on Qantas and the international carriers.

“And in addition to that, getting home quarantine to start with and then once 90% [vaccination] being reached, we would have quarantine being eliminated.”

He also suggested that when travellers arrive in Australia they could have their quick test – if negative on departure from, for example, Europe and UK and arrival in Australia – then travellers get on with enjoying their visit to our country. A scheme such as this has not been floated by the Australian Government at this stage.

The AFTA is an important industry association representing the sales arm of the travel network. It has been vocal about the need for Government support and for clarity around reopening the country to both international cruise ships and also international airline travel.

In a statement released last week Manwaring said that the Prime Minister’s confirmation that international travel is back on the cards from November for those states that successfully reach the 80 percent double-vaccinated threshold was the best news travel agents had so far this year.

“We are all desperate to get travelling again both across Australia and internationally. Today is a brilliant first step. However, along with eliminating airline seat caps, the aim must be quickly removing all hurdles for all approved, vaccinated inbound passengers to access rapid testing. Once they get a negative test, they should be able to go about normal activity immediately.

“Until international travel normalises, the 30,000 Australians who work in Australia’s travel sector and the 3,000 agencies and businesses who employ them urgently need ongoing help.”

“As so many Australians have discovered during COVID, travel agents are essential and even more important given the challenges of travelling internationally given the morass of differing requirements. Without a travel agent, you really are on your own,” he said.