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Lack of foresight has all but destroyed travel but a domestic travel certificate would provide an instant boost

Roger Smith, Director Operations at Echidna Walkabout, says a domestic travel certificate will save travel in Australia

Last Thursday, defending questions about the Government’s poor handling of the vaccine rollout in Australia, the Prime Minister said,

“I think there are a lot of heroes of hindsight at the moment……”.

It was yet another too-smart line from a man who is a master of the smilin’ sideswipe.

Foresight is the fulcrum to problem-solving but it’s a quality our Prime Minister seems to have missed out on. Pulling out one-liners to shield himself from growing criticism of his government’s laissez-faire and lackadaisical handling of the pandemic is another example of how poor his foresight is — remember the bushfires and Hawaii?

If Scott Morrison had deigned to look overseas he could have found a solution months ago — and we in the travel industry would not be in the mess we are in.

Fancy a trip to Portugal?

Let’s visit Portugal briefly, not only because that country is about to achieve 80% full vaccination (which is relevant) but also because I have two friends from Denmark there right now. One is in the travel industry and specialises in selling travel to Australia but is currently looking at travel options for her Danish clients — to Portugal. The other is a professor of Australian studies who is writing his latest book about Australia — in Portugal. (Denmark is close to hitting an 80% vaccine target too)

There’s so many disconcerting messages for Australia in that previous paragraph that it bears another look. We are becoming the laughing stock of the travel world — it’s taken Australia 50 years to build a sophisticated inbound travel portfolio, how long will it take us to recover from this current debacle?

Back to Portugal: how did my Danish friends manage to get there during a pandemic? They used an EU vaccine certificate.

What is a Vaccine Certificate?

People all over Europe, the USA, China and many other countries are moving about, with caution, using vaccine passports or certificates.

In the EU and nearby countries these certificates, or variants on the theme, have been in existence since July and some before that time. Negotiations to create these certificates must have been tough but they were resolved. You can see the 36 country profile on the European Commission’s website here: EU Digital COVID Certificate

In Australia, after months of prevarication, there is finally movement on vaccine passports/certificates but, as with all things Covid in this country, real progress is being stalled by a botched vaccine roll-out. In vivid contrast to the EU’s success, our Prime Minister’s failure to broker an agreement with the States and Territories on a passport/certificate has grounded travellers and is forcing travel businesses to close.

We can’t even manage to make up our minds whether to call it a passport or a certificate! So what can we manage?

The Doherty “Commandments”

Like many in the travel and hospitality industries, we are appalled by our Federal Government’s lack of foresight. Then there was the lie about the vaccines they said were on order which was compounded later by the “not a race” to get vaccinated debacle.

Finally, in a last ditch attempt to claw back credibility, the Prime Minister conjured up the Doherty model which he says provides for an opening up once we’ve achieved a very unclear 70% — or is it 80%? — full vaccination rate for people 16 years and older.

Katharine Murphy, The Guardian Australia’s Chief Political correspondent, tore this plan to shreds in a scathing article recently, “Political posturing has turned Australia’s Covid plan into an idiotic parable of the premiers”. She pointed out something that most Australians may not be aware of: the Doherty model is a simplistic one page document with a rubbery caveat in the bottom right corner: “The plan is based on the current situation and is subject to change if required.” (you can look at it here – National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response)

In other words the Doherty model is NOT a chiselled-in-stone set of commandments for reopening as the Prime Minister wants us to believe — there is flexibility if we care to look for it.

Governing by media release won’t give us a travel certificates

In the Doherty document you will find various obtuse references to what could be called a Vaccine Passport or Covid Certificate (although those words are never used). So to try and get a handle on the work being done I called the Minister for Tourism, Dan Tehan, in Canberra two weeks ago and was told by a staffer that the concept had been “put on the backburner” until sometime later in the year, possibly in November, or even later.

My response was that November was too late and that we needed to be talking about — and implementing — a digital certificate during September. When I followed up last week and asked what had happened since my previous call I was told that the Minister would “put out a media release”.  I think that was meant to make me feel better………..

Since then, and after a lot of phone calls by me, and no doubt many others, the passport/certificate appears to be gaining traction.

Well at least in the form of media releases.

I have been unable to discover anything concrete from anyone in the government other than planning is all hush-hush and going on behind closed doors —  the secrecy of this government is becoming legendary. But I do get a lot of sympathy: “thankyou for calling and I do hope things get better for you”.

So how do we get discussions about vaccine certificates out in the open?

If the Government can’t do it the travel/hospitality industry must insist that vaccine travel certificates work for us using the following 2 stage model:

Stage 1
Domestic Certificate – First

There’s a very good reason why domestic travel certificates should come before an international counterpart — this requires both hindsight and foresight to understand.

Hindsight – the ‘pivot’ story

To regain traction in the pandemic many players in the Australian inbound travel industry “pivoted”, reinventing themselves with an array of creative and workable domestic travel opportunities. We at Echidna Walkabout were part of that remarkable turnaround — Australians began booking our tours and things were looking positive then, with the recent Delta lockdowns, the pivot collapsed.

We were forced to cancel tours which, had they run, would have set our business back on track. Frustratingly, most people booked on those tours had been Covid double-dosed and, if a domestic travel certificate had have been in place, would have joined the tours. Sadly, Government foresight let them, and us, down…..again.

All over Australia thousands of travel/hospitality industry providers are trying to retain clients who booked domestic travel before the latest lockdowns. I know many reputable tour operators, travel agents and accommodations providers who were just managing before Delta but have now either closed their doors or are hanging on by a thread. We are all hoping our domestic clients remains faithful to their booking — when is can operate — and do not cancel to take off overseas as soon as international travel is allowed.

That’s why Domestic Travel Certificates must come first — if we lose existing clients to international outbound travel, if the pivot disintegrates, we will have nothing.

Foresight – issue domestic travel certificates

These stories highlight the most immediate problem our industry faces: to avoid obliteration we must move people both intra- and interstate now. Here’s how we can do that:

  • People who have had two shots of the Covid vaccine should be able to get a digital and/or paper travel certificate which accesses a scannable QR code (or some other form of digitised recognition) for authentication
  • This certificate should be issued by the Commonwealth under the MyGov/Medicare scheme (a “National Certificate”) or similar.
  • States and Territories could either decide to use the Commonwealth’s certificate directly OR create a localised certificate linked to the National Certificate
  • These Certificates should be able to be used within a jurisdiction for entry into whatever venue or mode of travel each jurisdiction requires
  • People who wish to travel interstate should be able to use this Certificate to enter another jurisdiction
  • Most importantly, the Certificate would come with a cast iron guarantee for re-entry to your home jurisdiction – no questions asked

View our mock up of a travel certificate

 

 

In competent hands a Domestic Travel Certificate could be operational by mid October.

If you have doubts look again at the EU model. If 36 countries (and counting) can sort their differences out why can’t a few States and Territories in the same country get their act together. With a tiny bit of foresight the Prime Minister’s much vaunted National Cabinet should have had this Certificate sorted out months ago.

Stage 2
International Covid Passport – AFTER Domestic

Over the past week there have been a growing number of ad hoc government media releases that have generated a plethora of stories about a new international vaccine passport for Australia (see The Age and Travel Daily).  Overall the gist is that there will be an international Covid passport announcement “in the next few weeks” with a view to allowing outbound travel from Australia to overseas — at least that’s how I read what’s going on.

As much as this announcement is welcomed it has some gaping holes in it.

  • Firstly it appears that the digital structure and security required for the passport to work are stuck on snags in the digital and political pipelines. Once again one wonders why this is taking so long to set up. The EU managed to set up its certificates in quick time
  • It also appears that what is being proposed at present is a passport to leave Australia. This poses serious problems for the local travel industry as I detailed in Stage 1.
  • Another big question is: if you leave Australia will you be guaranteed re entry to your own country? The travel news outlet “Karyon” has tried to answer this.
  • That leads neatly into a surprising aspect of this proposal. The Prime Minister is telling us that the new system will allow Australians stranded overseas to return to home. To throw stranded citizens into this mix is simply wrong – they deserve to come home no matter what happens. How this is linked to an outbound passport proposal is not clear.
In reality, nothing is clear.

The best way to deal with the current travel industry crisis is to get the Domestic Travel Certificate up and running immediately followed by outbound passports which should be introduced at roughly the same time as inbound (non-Australian) travellers are allowed into Australia.

What can you do?

1. Call Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Tourism

If you are in the travel/hospitality industry (or any other industry that will benefit from a vaccine certificate) call Mr Tehan’s office and demand the implementation of digital intra and interstate travel certificate now. Don’t be afraid to do this, it’s actually much easier than you’d think. You won’t talk to the Minister but your message will get through to him. Most importantly, tell your story and the impact the lockdowns are having on you and your business.

Each phone call will make a difference and the more phone calls there are the more differences we will make. Remember: Be polite but determined

Here is Minister Tehan’s Canberra number: (02) 6277 7420. If no-one answers call his Electorate office: (03) 5572 1100

2. Call your local State or Territory Tourism Minister with the same message.
3. Call the Federal Opposition’s Shadow Tourism Minister, Don Farrell, (08) 8231 8400.

 


Footnote: At first sight this story may appear unrelated to Conservation Travel but without the ability to travel there can be no conservation involved in travelling. Hence the reason we published this story.

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