Why Australia needs to open up international travel

Australia, I love you. But after the past 18 months, there’s a good reason why no one will want to visit any time soon.

Australia is a fantastic place to live.

It’s safe (if you overlook all the things that can sting or eat you), our government is stable and benign and we’re wildly prosperous compared to most of the world. But as a place to visit? It’s got a lot of drawbacks. It’s really far away. Our dollar value makes hotels, food and transport eye-wateringly expensive. And now that we’re seen as the country with the world’s jumpiest Covid controls – lockdowns here, border closures there – the worry is that we could be relegated to the tourism too-hard basket for a long time.

It’s possible the rot was already setting in before Covid. I was in Canada in February 2020, just before Covid’s clutches really took hold – and many people I spoke to told me they’d already crossed Australia off their visit list because of the 2019-2020 bushfires. The impression globally was that the entire country had frizzled to a crisp.

And it seems that the world’s understanding of Australia’s situation hasn’t become any less opaque since the Covid crisis began. A US travel agent I spoke to earlier in the year told me that Americans are astonished – and quite annoyed – to learn that they simply aren’t allowed to enter Australia at all. And this was before the rest of the world had truly began to open up. Imagine what they must be thinking now, when life has largely returned to normal on much of the planet and we’re still giving shrieking front-page news space to a truck driver who crosses into Queensland from NSW without a permit. We must look like the sort of place where you can get arrested if you sneeze.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said, vaguely that “we will get to international visitors, I believe next year” so it sounds like we have a bit of time to get some heartstring-tugging ad campaigns happening – bring on Paul Hogan, Kylie Minogue, Skippy, choirs standing on the Great Barrier Reef; whatever it takes.

Though perhaps it’s best steer clear of Peter Allen’s ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ in any ads at this point; the opening line of “I’ve been to cities that never close down” is not a mental association Australia needs right now.

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