With Australia’s international borders effectively closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that many travellers are getting itchy feet. It’s also little surprise that there have been countless news and blog articles predicting when international borders may re-open.
There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a matter of huge public interest. Unfortunately, many of these TV reports and news articles are irresponsibly reporting rumours, predictions and thought bubbles as fact – leaving the public misinformed and confused.
For example, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Tourism recently made a proposal to the Australian government that recommended trans-Tasman leisure travel be allowed to restart in July. Indeed, the Australian and New Zealand governments have both openly discussed the possibility of a “trans-Tasman bubble”, which looks increasingly likely to start at some point later this year. But the suggestion of trans-Tasman travel restarting from 1 July 2020 was simply a proposal – not official policy. Despite this, it was reported with headlines such as “Pack your bags!”.
Separately, Canberra Airport has put forward a plan to restart commercial tourist flights between Canberra and Wellington, with services run by Qantas and Air New Zealand, from 1 July. This has been widely reported on as well, with headlines like “Travel between Australia and New Zealand, coronavirus: The first trans-Tasman tourist flight could take off on July 1 between Canberra and Wellington”. Now, that’s fine, and it could be a great idea. But it should be made clear to readers that this is just a pipe dream at this stage. There are currently no such flights scheduled, and governments in Australia and New Zealand have not agreed to allow this.
You may have also heard that Greece will allow tourists from Australia and New Zealand again from 15 June. This was lapped up by the media, which reported on the Greek government’s invitation with headlines like “Grab Your Passport, Because Greece Is Re-opening To Aussie Tourists This Month”. That particular article goes on to say that “pretty soon we could be living it up on a dream vacay when travel to Greece resumes on June 15.”
The only problem is that the Australian government has not reciprocated Greece’s invitation, and Australians are still not allowed to travel overseas for a holiday. Anyone that attempts to fly from Australia to Greece for a holiday will be stopped at the border. If they do manage to go anyway, they’ll be placed into hotel quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Australia. This is not mentioned until the second-last paragraph of the AWOL article, almost as an afterthought.
At best, articles like these get peoples’ hopes up unnecessarily. At worst, they could even prompt some people to buy flights to Greece that they cannot use.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were reports last month that Australians won’t be able to travel overseas again until 2023. One headline stated “Overseas travel won’t return until 2023 due to coronavirus, experts warn”.
This is plainly not true. The doom & gloom was based on an IATA (International Air Transport Association) report that predicted it would take until 2023 for normal levels of international air traffic to resume.
“We don’t expect 2019 levels to be exceeded until 2023,” IATA said. That is very different to saying we won’t be able to travel overseas for three more years.
You may have also heard the rumour that Japan is planning to pay half of overseas visitors’ travel expenses in a move to kickstart its tourism industry after the pandemic. Much of the media reported this as fact. But this, too, was untrue – it was only a proposal under consideration, would not necessarily cover 50% of travel costs and would only apply to Japanese residents.
Such misleading and irresponsible headlines could give false hope, or alternatively cause unnecessary anxiety. And on multiple occasions, I have heard people regurgitating these predictions and proposals as facts. People rely on the media to inform them of the facts, but it seems facts have been replaced by hyperbole in some coverage of late.
There is an ongoing discussion about when international travel may resume on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Predictions of when international flights may resume/bans lifted