Tourism plays a key part in the Australian economy. But the government needs a strategy to leverage tourism recovery. The pandemic is not going away, so selective travel bubble arrangements between countries may be the best option for governments to reboot tourism. Australia has been exercising, in a limited sense, such policies with New Zealand and Singapore. Could travel bubbles be extended to other countries like China?
China plays an important role in Australia’s bilateral trade and tourism. In 2018–19, international visitors from China accounted for 27 per cent of Australia’s total international tourist spend, equivalent to the market share of visitor spend from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and India combined. As Australia’s number one inbound visitor market, China cannot be neglected when formulating Australia’s tourism recovery strategy.
Travel bubbles could be instituted between Australian state capital cities and major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen — keeping in mind that quick lockdowns may happen in any of these cities. The benefits of travel bubbles with China spill over to Australia’s higher education sector — thousands of Chinese students would be able to return to Australian universities.
While a travel bubble arrangement with China is critical for Australia’s tourism industry recovery, the barriers are obvious. The Australian government is unlikely to ease border restrictions before the end of 2021. China also seems to be very cautious and apparently won’t be opening its borders until the second half of 2022. And deteriorating Australia–China relations rule out the possibility of either government initiating or accepting a travel bubble proposal between the two countries in the short term.
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