Australia is trying to turn back time and convince its citizens to swap Bali for the Outback

Mark Chipperfield
“I’m not interested in the Outback,” says Richard, an affluent Sydneysider. “Even when I’m old and decrepit I will never buy a campervan and travel around Australia.” - getty

As Australia begins to ease restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, Australians are being encouraged to abandon overseas travel and explore their own “backyard”.

The Love Australia Project, funded by Tourism Australia, aims to reignite the domestic travel market once the lockdown ends.

“Australians may not be able to travel across our wide brown land at present, but those who can should definitely be dreaming and planning to tick off some bucket list items when it’s safe do so,” says Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.

But persuading globe-trotting Aussies to swap Barcelona for Broken Hill, Milan for Mildura and Paris for Paraburdoo could be a challenge beyond the powers of The Wiggles and Outback wrangler Matt Wright – stars of the new campaign.

“I’m not interested in the Outback,” says Richard, an affluent Sydneysider with a passion for languages, tango and baroque music. “Even when I’m old and decrepit I will never buy a campervan and travel around Australia.”

Australia’s lucrative tourism sector, which generates $A60.8 billion annually, came to a standstill on March 29 when the federal government closed the borders to all foreign visitors and imposed a 14-day quarantine period for all Australian citizens and residents returning home.

Even as Australia begins the slow process of opening up public spaces, restaurants, workplaces and schools, its major city airports are still largely abandoned.

Qantas aims to restart half its domestic flights by July - getty

Arrivals at Sydney Airport, the country’s busiest hub, are down to a trickle but there is some light on the horizon. Emirates this week resumed flights from Europe (including London) and North America to Melbourne. Etihad and Qatar are also operating a limited service between the UK and Australia.

Australia’s crackdown on visiting cruise ships has been more draconian because of a major break-out of Covid-19 on the Ruby Princess in Sydney Harbour in mid-March.

But Tourism Australia will need to need to go beyond motherhood statements about Aussie mateship before travellers exchange the lure of overseas hotspots for home-grown attractions, such as Uluru (Ayers Rock), Margaret River, Kangaroo Island and the Gold Coast.

Uluru - getty

For the past decade Australians have enjoyed cheap international air fares and affordable holiday packages to Fiji, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia; last year a staggering 1.3 million Australians holidayed on Bali.

Apart from radically overhauling this consumer mindset, travel authorities face a more immediate obstacle: interstate travel is still largely banned, with several states, including Queensland and Western Australia, effectively isolating themselves.

Queensland, the preferred holiday destination for many Australians, has imposed a hard border on New South Wales; there are stiff penalties for anyone crossing the border illegally.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic the Australian travel industry remains typically upbeat about its prospects; optimism is a national trait.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce is confident the airline will be operating at least half of its domestic network by July, with a suite of new safety measures in place, as well as $A19 fares from Sydney to Melbourne.