SYDNEY, Australia – Sydney-based travel company CBT Holidays is hoping the reopening of China’s borders will revive Australia’s tourism industry after a year of “survival”.
The travel company lost access to its biggest market in 2020 when both Australia and China closed their borders due to COVID-19. For most of 2021, CBT Holidays has ceased operations entirely due to a lack of customers.
Despite Australia’s reopening to tourists in February 2022 and CBT’s efforts to refocus on domestic travel, business at CBT Holidays remains subdued as Chinese tourist arrivals fell by more than 95% last year from 1.43 million in 2019.
“Initially, we started with [the] The Australian government and the New South Wales government until about a year and a half ago,” Eric Wong, product manager for CBT Holidays, told Al Jazeera.
“and [then] We just shut down for business. “
Now, millions of Chinese including tourists, students and business travellers, are expected to travel abroad for the first time in three years to destinations such as Australia as China begins opening its borders from Sunday.
“[It’s] Good news, the Chinese border is open,” CBT Holidays owner Jimmy L told Al Jazeera, asking to be referred to by his first and initials.
“More or less, the business will come … and then we’ll be profitable again.”
Still, he is cautious about how long it will take for business to recover, not least because of the lack of flights in and out of China and high ticket prices.
“For example, before, a plane ticket back to China was about A$1,000 (US$688). Now [it’s] 8,000, 9,000 [Australian dollars] ($5,500, $6,200) … for the economy,” he said.
Sun, general manager of China Travel Service, another China-focused operator in Sydney, agreed.
Sun told Al Jazeera there were only “a few flights” from China to Australia with just a few hundred passengers, and asked to reveal his surname.
While Chinese airlines are increasing flights to and from Australia, Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, has yet to announce the resumption of routes to China.
“I think it’s going to change a lot … when the airlines increase their slots … I think the movement of people between the two countries will become more frequent and then it will gradually return to normal,” Sun said. Say.
So far, the Australian government has done little to encourage travel between China and Australia, even though Chinese tourists accounted for A$12.3 billion ($8.5 billion), or one-third of all tourism spending, before the pandemic.
On New Year’s Day, Australia announced that travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, must provide negative COVID-19 test results before travel amid fears that a surge in cases in China could introduce new and more dangerous variants to Australia.
The measures were announced by the Australian government – after similar moves by countries including India, Japan, the UK and the US – despite the country’s chief medical officer advising no new restrictions on travel were necessary.
Beijing condemned the measures, saying any COVID-19 control policy needs to be “proportionate” and “based on science” without affecting “normal travel and exchanges and cooperation between people”.
Sun said he was not too concerned that the tests would deter or dissuade some Chinese from traveling to Australia.
“I think it’s good … it’s very, very reasonable,” he said. “Even now, for Australians or other Chinese, visiting China, they still need a 48-hour COVID test. Same.”
“I also think we need time – policy may change,” he added.
But Sun said there was more work to be done to encourage the Chinese to return to Australia in large numbers.
“We still need [to] Reconnecting with those hotels, those attractions, and then getting new equipment, new contracts, and then building on that, we create new products for Chinese inbound customers,” he said.
“So we need to reconnect with Chinese tourism companies[ies] Create a group tour product for Australians [travelling to China] So we need several months to prepare. “
Meanwhile, Sun said he has learned from experience that it is critical for his business to continue expanding overseas to secure its future.
“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” he said, adding that CTS had started to expand.
Meanwhile, companies like CTS are eagerly anticipating the return of Chinese tourists.
Sun said that while he had expected China to eventually open its borders, he did not expect it to be so soon.
“That’s why everyone knows the news, especially in this industry. They’re very excited,” he said. “We’re very excited. [It’s] good news. “