(4:20 a.m. AEST) -- Australia's Tourism Restart Taskforce has outlined a proposed recovery plan for domestic and international tourism that would see residents able to travel back and forth to New Zealand beginning July 1, while travel to "safe" countries could resume as early as September 10.
The newly formed committee's work offers detailed guidelines for when multiple industries can restart and outlines expected hibernation and recovery timelines for each across a six-step program outlined for stakeholders May 22.
Domestic travel, including local small-ship expedition cruise lines, can resume operations July 1. This date would also allow travel between Australia, New Zealand and several locations in the Pacific.
While the Taskforce's recommendations are aspirational at this point and are still dependent on sign-off from authorities, Australia is one of the first nations to outline a concise plan for restarting the entire hospitality and tourism sector following the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring.
Australia, which managed to control its cases early on, has long advocated for a "bubble" travel agreement with neighbouring New Zealand, which locked down early and managed to contain the spread.
If successful, the first flight between Australia and New Zealand will take off from Canberra on July 1, bound for Wellington, New Zealand.
What Is A Travel Bubble?
Australia's new travel agreements are sometimes referred to as either a travel bubble, green bubble, green lane, or air bridge. Whatever the terminology, there is already talk of expanding these beyond the current proposal between Australia and New Zealand.
Essentially, travel bubbles are meant as a replacement for the 14-day quarantines many countries have mandated for incoming travellers. They would allow for international travel between two or more approved countries without the need to self-isolate, a move that is critical to restarting the lagging tourism industry around the world.
There are already additional real-world indicators that these bubbles, or approved lanes of travel, will be prevalent in the future.
On June 2, Singapore Airlines resumed flights between Singapore and Australia. The two governments are reportedly in talks to develop a "green lane" between both countries that would eliminate the 14-day isolation on arrival requirement that is currently in place.
Arrangements like this would pave the way to have at least some international tourism restart in advance of the region's primary cruise season, which typically runs during the North American winter months, or the Southern Hemisphere's summertime.
This style of "green lane" or "bubble" is spreading outward around the Pacific: Hawaii is exploring the possibility of establishing a travel bubble with Japan.
In Canada, a domestic travel bubble is one of the proposals on the table to restart interprovincial travel. Some provinces, like New Brunswick, currently mandate a 14-day quarantine for all incoming travellers, including Canadians. In the wake of the entire cruise 2020 ship season being cancelled by Transport Canada, some Atlantic Canadian provinces are stating that travel bubbles
to sustain the local tourism industry.
What It Means for the Cruise Industry
Travel bubbles would effectively allow passengers from certain countries to embark on cruises, provided that the country the ship is docking in is receptive. There have been some indicators of this happening around the world, notably in Norway and on river cruise vessels in Germany, some of which have tentatively restarted operations catering to local passengers.
Cairns-based Coral Expeditions, though, is cautious. The line has been operating cruises throughout Australia and beyond since 1983 and tells Cruise Critic that there is still much that is unknown about how the cruise industry can safely resume in the region.
"We eagerly anticipate a return to operations when the time is right," said Jeff Gillies, Commercial Director with Coral Expeditions. "Australia has a well credentialed fleet of locally Australian-flagged small expedition ships with over 35 years history. We are well positioned to be the first back to operations with our Australian guests, Australian crew and the highest of local standards and knowledge.
"Let's be clear though: No operators have clear permission to operate at present from the government authorities or traditional landowners. We are fully committed to the process of preparing to return and have developed a full health-management plan to support our return."
Although the Australian government has tentatively given the go-ahead to resume local small-ship cruises, approvals are needed from landowners and state governments as well. Coral Expeditions tells Cruise Critic it is unknown exactly when or how that will happen, saying continued speculation around the resumption of cruising is damaging to the industry.
"We are disappointed to see and read claims of foreign-flagged vessels announcing speculative resumption dates within the safe bubble of our shores without permissions," Gillies tells Cruise Critic. "We would prefer to not confuse or mislead the market, which is in need of finding confidence from the cruise sector."
Impact on International Cruise Lines Unclear.
International travellers and cruise lines will have to wait a bit longer to go Down Under. The current Taskforce plans call for international tourism to resume no earlier than December 15, 2020.
This would include large lines like Princess and Royal Caribbean that have a significant presence in the region and still source passengers largely from North America. What is less clear is how Australia's travel program would affect big-ship cruise lines like P&O Australia that source passengers primarily from Australia and New Zealand, but are foreign-flagged and utilize international crew members.
It also isn't known yet what other nations would be deemed as "safe" part of the earlier September 15 "bubble." It is entirely possible that Australian authorities will gradually allow citizens from a variety of countries to slowly come back to the country until all previously accepted nationalities are welcomed again.
A Safe Restart to Cruise the Goal.
While it is entirely possible that the dates the Taskforce have come up with could change, having these working goals allows both domestic and international cruise lines to better prepare their health and safety protocols for a planned relaunch that is known and expected by all stakeholders.
In other parts of the world, cruisers have seen lines attempt to restart only to have government authorities shut them down. This happened in April when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut down the cruise industry from U.S. ports for 100 days until July 24, and in May when Transport Canada effectively cancelled all cruises from Canadian ports of call through the remainder of the 2020 season.
In both cases, neither country has provided any sort of timeline for the cruise industry to attempt to meet to safely and successfully relaunch.
Australia and New Zealand, which have both taken a global lead in managing, controlling and containing the spread of COVID-19, could now lead the way in providing a framework to restart the cruise industry -- a framework based on bubbles of travellers from trusted countries.