International Travel May Be Off the Table Until 2021: Australian Economists
Tue, April 20, 2021

International Travel May Be Off the Table Until 2021: Australian Economists


The Australian government plans to relax some restrictions this week so the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand may not be far off.  / Photo by TK Kurikawa via Shutterstock


Australians hoping to travel internationally after quarantine is over may have to change their plans as the majority of the country’s economists believe that border restrictions will not be lifted until the start of 2021.


Predicting when Australian borders will open

A survey conducted by comparison site Finder comprising 31 Australian economists found that Australians may not be able to travel overseas this year. Out of the 31 economists surveyed, only 4 think that the border could be open before 2020 ends and the other 27 or 87% of the economists said that travel restrictions will be at an absolute minimum. A majority also said that the country is still seven months away from being relaxed.

Nine of the economists predicted that the Australian borders will be opened in the first quarter of 2021, eight said it will be in the third quarter of 2021, and only two experts said it will be in 2022. Overall, four in ten believe that border restrictions will be lifted before March 2021 while more than half said it will be in June. The statistics for this survey also appeared in Business Insider Australia.

The official figures show that the Australian economy earns $45 billion from international tourists every year but that amount will be missed by the country this year. A silver lining that the experts see is when visitors can travel again and Australia is among the top of their list. 

Financial expert Elders Home Loans’ head John Rolfe shared via Business Insider that their country has put health above economy during the coronavirus outbreak and they have seen positive results for doing so. The biggest positive result is that tourists could view their country as the “safest” destination if they are considering the health perspective.

The federal government has not yet shared how long the travel restrictions in Australia will apply but the Prime Minister has already signaled that it will take some time before people can travel internationally again.


Australia-New Zealand travel bubble

PM Scott Morrison said that the risks are obvious. “The only exception to that, as I have flagged, is potentially with New Zealand.” He added that they already made some “good discussions” about it. However, other than New Zealand, it would be unlikely.

The Australian government plans to relax some restrictions this week so the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand may not be far off. By travel bubble, they mean a travel corridor between the two nations. Both appear to have successfully brought their Covid-19 cases under control so politicians are considering when their borders could be opened to each other. Morrison also said that if there is any country they can reconnect with first; it would be New Zealand “undoubtedly.”

The Prime Minister also said that he is not willing to jeopardize the position that New Zealand has already got into by opening their borders too soon. It remains unclear when this “travel bubble” will come to reality but travel industry experts believe it would be during the ski season in New Zealand or during the school holidays.



The two countries are separated by about 1,243 miles or 2,000 km of the sea but they have a close bilateral relationship. Australian passport holders can even work and travel in New Zealand indefinitely without a visa and the same rule applies for New Zealand passport holders. Both contribute heavily to each other's tourism industry. Almost 40% of New Zealand’s international arrivals are Australians and almost 24% of Australia’s international arrivals are from New Zealand. This is important for New Zealand as tourism is its biggest export industry, contributing to 20.4% of total exports. It is considered an export industry as foreign cash is used to avail of services and buy goods in New Zealand.


Domestic tourism: a hope for regions affected by bushfire season

Aside from the Australian-New Zealand travel corridor, closer to reality would be domestic travel when the country’s health departments are already satisfied with the progress of virus containment. For the regions that are most affected by the bushfire season, domestic travel will be a welcome news.

Australians living in the cities may have not thought about the impact of the bushfire season due to the Covid-19 pandemic but many in regional Australia still remember the intense fire season that was made worse by climate change.  In the aftermath of the bushfire, Tourism Australia launched domestic tourism campaigns but these were put on pause because of the stay-at-home orders. If domestic travel is allowed, it means that these campaigns can also kick off again.



Comment from an infectious diseases physician

Infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon, who is also a professor of clinical medicine at the Australian National University Medical School, told Bloomberg that the main indicator the government needs to determine whether the current measures are effective in controlling the pandemic is the level of new infections within the community. So, if the pandemic curve continues to increase, that means the country has not yet gotten control of the virus and they may have to consider introducing new controls.

On the other hand, if the curve is falling or remains at a low level but is stable, some controls may be taken off. Collignon, however, thinks that the virus will be around for at least two years so measures should remain in place.


Australians living in the cities may have not thought about the impact of the bushfire season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. / Photo by BigDane via Shutterstock


Australian tourism

Approximately 8.5 million tourists arrived in Australia in 2018, marking a 4.7% increase from 2017 when there were 8.1 million tourists from overseas. The majority of Australia’s tourists come from China (1.43 million), New Zealand (1.38 million), the United States (789,000) the United Kingdom (733,000), Japan (469,000), and Singapore (448,000), according to Australian travel insurer Budget Direct.

Australia is a difficult destination for international tourists from the northern hemisphere because of the country’s isolation from the other continents. This is why Australia is not among the top 10 most visited countries in 2018. The cost of flights and long distances can serve as a deterrent for international tourists. The most visited countries in 2016 were France (82.6 million visitors), United States (75.6 million), Spain (75.6 million), China (59.3 million), and Italy (52.4 million). Australia ranked 40th with 8.2 million visitors in the same period.

As tourism is Australia’s largest services export industry, measures to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 are needed. Domestic tourism in bushfire-devasted regions should also be encouraged.