One of the biggest industries to be blind-sided by the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic was the travel industry and at long last the borders are again opening within Australia and with the wider world but the ease with which we used to travel in the past is still some way in the future. COVID regulations are still a major consideration when travelling.
Neos Kosmos‘ employee Sarah James booked with Emirates to visit her family in Wales before the rise of the pandemic in March 2020 and opted to keep her ticket in credit in the belief that normality would return within a matter of months. Holding on to the ticket worked out in her favour even though it has taken far longer than a “few months” for life to return to some semblance of normality.
For the same flight now, she would have had to pay $1,700 more than in 2020, however the airline honoured the credit and transferred the ticket without demanding more money.
“Because I had a credit, I could not book the flight online but had to call the airline. It took a hour to get through, but they said there were no extra charges as it had not been my fault, “Ms James told Neos Kosmos.
“I have heard that there are some travel agents and airlines charging transfer fees of around $300.”
With the ticket secured there was still a lot of investigating to do online with regard to navigating the rules and regulations around COVID-19 that each country applies.
As she is travelling to the United Kingdom she will be required to fill in a Passenger Locator Form providing details of where she can be reached during her stay and have a COVID test done by the end of day two of her entry. Were she to stay in England she will be required to undertake a another COVID test on day eight but the requirements for Wales are different.
“Check the area you will be travelling to,” Ms James advised. In order to minimise the risk of infection from taking a bus or train from Heathrow to Wales, she has opted to hire a car to get her to Wales.
Another obstacle is securing travel insurance. It is not as easy to get as it once was. “I had to really look around as many companies no longer offer travel insurance and what is available is a basic medical insurance that will you home but you will not get full cover. Insurance will cover for a change in schedule but not it is a pandemic related issue.”
Before leaving Australia, she said she was required to have in the UK a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for COVID-19 three days before leaving and within 24 hours of returning to Australia followed by a further test within seven days of returning. That time period would also have to be included in applying for leave unless one could work from home.
Another change that Ms James encountered was the requirement to check in two days before flying and to check for regulation changes.
She advised checking with the federal government’s Smartravellers Advice website which provided up-to-date state and overseas to keep check the risks and requirements for over 170 destinations.
“Because I already had my ticket booked, was prepared to do the legwork and am used to the quick changes in COVID-19 regulations, I was happy to arrange the trip myself. But if you are confused or uncomfortable with it all I would suggest you go to a travel agent.
Much of what Ms James recounted was echoed by travel agent Jaqui Preketes of Touchdown Tours, but added that there were other factors to also consider including the advantages enjoyed by those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Those who are not vaccinated still need to apply for travel exemptions from the Australian government. Also, if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to go into quarantine on your return to Australia at a cost of about $3,000 for two weeks in a specified quarantine hotel. If people do not vaccinate, there are options for them, but they are unpleasant and pricey,” Ms Preketes noted. “I would not travel without a vaccination certificate to show.”
She also advised that now was not the time to travel to more than two destinations abroad per journey because of the differences in each country’s travel requirements that could affect one’s travel plans and also increase the risk of contracting COVID.
“This is not the time to go backpacking around Europe, particularly when using rail or bus. We do not know what the COVID-safe policies are for travelling by rail. I feel aircraft are the safest because of their strong filtration systems.”
She advised would-be travellers to check online for the arrival protocols needed by the countries where they intended to travel.
“For example, Greece requires you to fill in a Passenger Locator Form which needs to be filled in and submitted within 72 hours of arrival which is about 48 hours before leaving Australia. Cyprus has requires you to fill the Cyprus Safe Pass.
“When in Greece and whether you have vaccinated or not, you will need to show proof that you have had a PCR test done before you board the plane – and you may have to pay for that test. The rapid antigen test which you can purchase at a supermarket is not accepted.”
She said that travel regulations changed very quickly and often without prior notice but a traveller had to be alert to the changes.
She also advised wearing masks, sanitising regularly and maintaining social distance rules while travelling.
Ms Preketes said that with the opening of the borders things were finally starting to look up in the travel industry. She said most of her customers were booking for travel to Europe in the European summer, but she had not had much interest from people wishing to travel over Christmas.
“I think the majority of people are looking to travel within Australia. Most of the bookings overseas are to visit family and relatives (VFRs) with a single-destination preference.
She added that she was still processing cancellations following the outbreak of the pandemic early last year but was glad to operate again.
“I think the people have seen the value of a travel provider in all of this. We are up-to-date with the latest COVID information and on arrival and departure requirements. I am grateful to be back and although things well be different, we do need to be patient,” Ms Preketes said.
She added that tickets were now slightly higher than pre-COVID levels because there were no caps in place on the number of people allowed into the country as had been the case after pandemic took hold.
♦ Jaqui Preketes recommends to visit the following websites as part of your travel planning preparations:
Smartraveller (Australia); Passenger Locator Form (PLF) for Greece; and
Cyprus (Cyprus Safe Pass). For travel insurance matters, go to the covermore website.