.Like most of us here, I like to travel and my wife Ann’s elderly mum and dad live in Germany, so travel to Europe is a regular occurrence in our household, but COVID-19 has brought everything to screaming stop. We’re all stuck where we live at the moment, for our safety and that of everyone else.
We’ve been rather lucky in Western Australia – well – credit where credit is due, the State Government acted swiftly, closing borders and containing international arrivals, whether by ship or aircraft, the consequence of which, is that after a relatively mild lock down process, we are now pretty free to move about within the state and it’s a bloody big state – half of Australia to be exact.
The State government decided they wanted to keep the mining industry going at all costs, as did the industry. As a consequence, strict processing and quarantining measures were put in place and eventually, FIFO workers from the Eastern States and New Zealand were given the option of remaining here in the West, or not coming back. A terribly tough decision for people to make. As a FIFO mine worker, along with my work colleagues , we are tested for COVID-19 every time we fly back to work. My doctor remarked, “You’re actually safer in the closed mining environment than you are wandering around the city!” That was some time ago, now it’s very safe anywhere in the West. So at a time when so many people across Australia have lost jobs and income, our household hasn’t missed a beat. In other words, it’s been pretty well life as normal, except for a while we didn’t see anybody else, but now we can and the plans are under way to celebrate. However the one thing that has not returned to normal, is overseas travel. My cousin in New Zealand, wrote on FB the other day, replying to an overseas friend of hers, that she felt COVID-19 may have brought her travelling days to an end – I shan’t give her age away, but it’s fair to say she’s long past the ‘Three Score Years and Ten.”
I started to think when I read that, in terms of travel, post COVID-19 and the more I thought about it, the more radical it seems the future of travel (of everything!) might be. This respiratory diseases is highly dangerous and highly contagious. It’s different and deadlier than Swine Flu – which I caught in the USA, back in 2009. This one is starting to show its true colours, in terms of long term debilitating effects.
A vaccine is the Holy Grail upon which we will travel again.But what of those of us who are almost 70, or over 70, know, once you’re that sort of age, travel insurance becomes very expensive. For me, over the last decade, ten years ago, it was around $35.00 per week, on my visit to Europe last Christmas, it was $50.00 per week. In fact, pre COVID-19, I became so concerned about future travel insurance costs, earlier this year, I accepted the offer of a QANTAS Platinum credit card, simply because it gives free travel insurance as long as the tickets are booked with the card (it doesn’t have to be Qantas). However it doesn’t take much to imagine that there will probably be a COVID-19 exclusion on any future travel insurance and quite probably, medical insurance to countries with an on-going COVID-19 problem, such as the USA, will be impossible to get.
Suddenly, retirees, the big spenders in terms of international travel, will not be able to get medical cover to some countries and young backpackers, in their gap years, may not want to risk future medical complications, even if they can get medical insurance.
The reality is, the travel industry across the World is now in dreadful trouble and quite how the industry, from airlines to taxis, will recover, I don’t think anybody knows. The travel dollar is massive income for almost every country in the world, some, like New Zealand, have an economy largely augmented by international tourism. And NZ is an interesting case to study – it’s basically, like Western Australia, COVID-19 free, a haven. So what do they do? Advertise “Come to Aotearoa, where you’ll be safe and see some of the World’s most magnificent scenery.”? You wouldn’t want anybody from the USA, or the UK, or most of Australia, (all major markets for the Kiwis), any where near the joint!
Back to a vaccine. There is talk of miracles and things happening. There’d have to be, unless something is developed, our world has changed forever, but no matter how many scientific teams unite around the world to develop a vaccine, it will take time. You’d have to imagine a minimum of three years, more likely five and then somebody’s going to want to make a lot of money out of it.
In the meantime, airline companies have to maintain aircraft. Sure you can store them in Arizona, or Alice Springs, but the maintenance continues, whether they fly or not and pilots have to be kept in training, all of which costs huge money.
Whether we like it or not, if we want our World travel to resume, all our nations are going to have to continue to support, that is, give money to airlines to survive. I think there will be huge contraction and massive amalgamations with airlines, there will be no choice.
Let us then imagine that some forms of international travel, to safe destinations, from safe countries, are possible next year. What will be the cost of a return ticket from say, Perth to Amsterdam? Up until now, the average economy return ticket has been around $1,500.00. Australians have long paid more for tickets than Europeans, simply because our incomes are higher, (so is our cost of living, but that’s not what airlines base their fares on). Australia is in a recession and many, many people are out of work and or have used all their savings – the ability to travel, even if it’s available next year, will be severely limited to many people. Add to that, the other whammy of travel insurance cover and it’s not hard to imagine that fares might actually be cheaper for a while, subsidised by governments in order to get people moving / visiting again.
Even then, without a vaccine, it’s obvious a traveller is going to have to pay for COVID-19 screening before flying out and before flying home, so add at least $500 or so to any international travel. Testing should obviate the need for quarantining isolation.
Of course, the money lenders in the temples (and seemingly anything owned or operated by Murdoch) want everything to open now. There was an economist on the ABC the other night, basically calling for us to let the elderly and infirm die, as they are already a financial burden.
In the finish with some, we humans are purely a number in terms of cost related value, like a car, get rid of the bastard once it starts to cost money. These forces are large and powerful, they may well win and a tired, caged society, desperate for freedom to visit family and friends overseas may even applaud such moves, sooner rather than a cautious later.
Let us hope that COVID-19 testing is the initial path to some restoration of international travel, along with government subsidies and agreements, in terms of travel insurance – here, the USA with the democratic world’s worst medical health system (financial – their medical knowledge is second to none) will probably be off limits for several years, but then they may well be in a civil war and you wouldn’t want to go there!
With luck, maybe we will have a proven vaccine within the next couple of years, until then, hopefully Leonard Cohen wasn’t quite as prescient back in 1992 as some of us are inclined to think – to quote from THE FUTURE:
Things are going to slid, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned
The order of the soul
… I’ve seen the future, brother.
It is murder