When the state government of Western Australia partnered with Virgin Australia to offer heavily discounted airfares to the state’s outback Kimberley region, all 8,000 cheap seats on offer sold out within one week in July, such was the pent-up demand from travel-starved locals.
Unable to fly internationally, and with state borders fully or partially locked around Australia, travellers have been restricted to limited domestic trips during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Kimberley pearling town of Broome has been one of the few destinations that has been able to recoup some of the business lost this year to coronavirus.
Thousands have taken advantage of Virgin’s discounted airfares to head north – or made the 2,000km journey from state capital Perth to Broome by car or caravan. As a result, Kimberley accommodations, including hotels and caravan parks, have enjoyed a mini boom.
But it’s a patchy recovery for domestic tourism as the state governments carefully monitor their borders and change by the day their entry rules to visitors from other states.
As well, hopes of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand were shot down on Monday by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern said Australia's coronavirus community transmission levels were too high to contemplate opening her nation to Australian citizens and that the situation was unlikely to change “for several months”.
The biggest concerns are for the state of Victoria where the Covid-19 outbreak has spiralled, forcing the premier, Daniel Andrews, to declare Victoria a “state of disaster” and introducing the nation’s toughest lockdown restrictions to date.
Under the stage four lockdown restrictions, people in Melbourne metro areas are not allowed to travel further than five kilometres from their homes, can exercise for only one hour a day with a group size limited to a maximum of two, and only one person per household is allowed to go shopping.
And among restrictions coming into force from midnight Wednesday in Melbourne and applying for six weeks, travel agencies will be among retail businesses forced to close.
The fear now is that many of these agencies will not reopen their doors and will join the hundreds of retail stores that have already elected to close up shop during the pandemic.