With international travel restrictions relaxing, Natalie Hawke felt confident enough to book an overseas trip on a whim after seeing an online ad.
“It just popped up on Facebook,” Hawke, a Sydney-based apparel production manager, said. “The package deal was pretty good, with the flights, the accommodation and all meals included.”
“The price of what we were going to get in Sydney versus overseas luxury accommodation, I just couldn’t justify (a domestic holiday).”
Come August, Hawke and her family will be heading to Fiji. She’s not alone – the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for short-term departures shows Fiji has become the number one destination for Australians.
In December, more than 8000 Australians returned from trips to the Pacific nation, 15 per cent of the total, ahead of the USA (6640) and the UK (5610).
Hawke isn’t the only one feeling encouraged by the relaxing of restrictions.
“It’s really promising to see how immediate the response has been from Australian travellers, with travel interest spiking in line with recent border openings,” said Expedia travel expert Lisa Perkovic.
“Since the announcement was made that Australia would reopen to international tourists, we’ve seen international travel interest among Australian travellers rise by close to 30 per cent.”
Fiji has been the most popular destination for flight bookings on Expedia since November, followed by Los Angeles, London, Hawaii and Dubai. Bookings to Fiji have been climbing steadily since the scrapping of hotel quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers in December.
Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill said a combination of unprecedented deals and easing restrictions are driving the Fiji frenzy.
“As confidence in overseas travel returns and it becomes easier and easier to fly to and from Fiji, we are seeing more and more bookings, and many first-timers are taking advantage,” he said.
While Fiji has proven popular, other traditionally favoured destinations remain difficult to access. New Zealand and Japan are still closed to tourists, while Bali, which recently reopened to visitors, requires arrivals to isolate for up to five days.
“Bali, New Zealand, Japan and Vanuatu are still largely closed off,” said Flight Centre Australia General Manager Kelly Spencer. “They’ve either not opened their borders or require a significant quarantine on arrival to deter people from travelling at this time.”
Better options are the US, UK and western Europe, all of which are welcoming fully-vaccinated foreigners (the Australian government’s travel advice for Europe has not changed, despite the conflict in Ukraine).
“These countries have minimal requirements to travel,” Spencer said. “They’re also not changing their pre-travel departure requirements too often which is giving travellers better confidence.”
Australians will also finally see the return of the European summer holiday in 2022 – albeit on a smaller scale than pre-pandemic times. France, Germany, Spain, Croatia and Greece make up some of the options currently available to Aussies thanks to increasingly visitor-friendly border-entry policies.
“Traditionally these are all popular destinations to spend the summer months. All have phased out pre-departure tests or quarantine for vaccinated travellers, making them relatively simple destinations to travel to.”
Overall, Australians taking trips overseas still remain well below pre-pandemic levels, with just 52,000 returning from short-term trips in December 2021, compared with more than 1.4 million in January 2020. Omicron has been blamed for the slow return to international travel, with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce this week estimating the highly contagious variant had pushed back the industry’s recovery by six months.
Hawke, meanwhile, is grateful that Fiji recently relaxed its testing requirements for visitors, scrapping the requirement for a pre-departure negative PCR test result in favour of a negative RAT. She will also only require a negative RAT to return home since Australia relaxed its testing requirements for arrivals last month.
“You had to pay an exorbitant cost for it over there – I think they were quoting $FJ350-400 ($A229-$261) per test,” she said. “Now that it seems to be stabilising here, and the rest of the world is opening up, I’m feeling more confident about flying out of Australia.”