Tourism operators ravaged by the pandemic are pinning their hopes on an Easter tourism boom this year, with survey data suggesting more than four million Australians are planning trips away.
Data from Roy Morgan and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) shows Australians are expected to spend $7.1 billion on Easter vacations in what has been described as the first undisrupted holiday season since the beginning of the pandemic.
Australian Tourism Industry Council deputy chair Daniel Gschwind said tourism operators are feeling optimistic as accommodation and flight bookings across travel hotspots are almost back to pre-COVID levels.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said Easter would be the first holiday period in two years that Australians will be able to take full advantage of.
“Travel plans were discarded in 2020 and 2021 due to the various snap lockdowns, and last Christmas was disrupted by Omicron,” Mr Zahra said.
“With minimal COVID restrictions in place and Australia’s high vaccination rate providing safety and confidence, people are now starting to go back to more regular holiday and social activities.”
And the turnaround is much needed for the tourism industry, with data from Tourism Research Australia showing the industry’s losses totalled $146.6 billion between March 2020 and December 2021.
Mr Gschwind said the renewed freedom to travel within Australia had improved consumer confidence, and businesses were looking forward to a busy Easter.
“That much-talked-about pent-up demand for tourism and leisure experiences is certainly being activated,” he said.
“And we are both counting on it, and we’re desperate for it.”
The survey found Australians planning to travel are mostly leaving their passports at home.
Of those planning to go away this Easter, 63 per cent will be travelling within their own state, 34 per cent will travel interstate, and only 3 per cent will head overseas.
Mr Gschwind said traditional holiday destinations such as Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales are “coming back into their own”.
“We are in a little bit of a sweet spot in the sense that many Australians are still somewhat reluctant to go overseas, and they’re waiting for a bit more certainty and the [Ukraine] crisis to subside,” he said.
Mr Gschwind said the domestic tourism industry had an opportunity to show Australians their own country could offer experiences to rival those overseas.
‘Tough couple of years’
Drew Hamilton, director of sales at Down Under Tours Cairns, said bookings at his company were higher than they had been during the pandemic but not quite back to pre-COVID levels.
“We certainly saw a kick from the Christmas period, but traditionally people come up to North Queensland around Easter,” Mr Hamilton said.
“We’re just hoping that continues.
“It has been a pretty tough couple of years, and most businesses are rebuilding.”
Mr Hamilton said Easter bookings would have been higher were it not for a pandemic shift in travellers’ booking patterns.
Where travellers once pre-booked all their tours before hopping on a plane, now they book their tours after arrival to avoid the hassle of chasing refunds should COVID-19 stop them from getting on their flight.
With COVID still a concern, many businesses in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region are working together to rebuild consumer confidence by allowing people to change their booking dates, Mr Hamilton said.