Ever since COVID-19 shut Australia’s internal and external borders, travellers trying to move around the country have faced some form of lockout.

No industry has been harder hit than tourism. Still reeling from the summer bushfires, coronavirus has decimated Australia’s economy and nowhere has the impact been as instant or more devastating than in tourism.

This week, we learnt the full extent of what just two months without domestic tourism has done to our economy.

In the month of April and May alone, domestic travel spending plummeted by $11 billion compared to the same time last year.

The figures, which are reflective of the height of the COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, show that spending in Victoria dropped by 92 per cent, while it was down by 89 per cent in both New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

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For an industry that employs around 5 per cent of the Australian workforce – or around 666,000 people – it’s no surprise that the opening and closing of internal borders has shaken consumer confidence.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham on Friday said state and territory leaders need to take a “pragmatic approach” when deciding on lengthy border closures, arguing that jurisdictions with low cases should open to others in a similar situation.

“I would encourage state premiers and chief ministers to take a pragmatic approach in terms of dealing with states who are in almost identical or perhaps even better conditions than themselves,” he told the ABC.

Earlier this week, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the territory’s border would remain closed to coronavirus-affected states for at least 18 months, while Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan predicted his borders may also remain shut for months.

It’s a move industry experts say is “destroying” state and territory economies, and will only create “enormous volatility in the tourism industry” if continued for an extended amount of time.

“We simply can’t keep it up,” UTS tourism expert Dr David Beirman told news.com.au.

“I fully understand that until Victoria conquers its massive spike, tourism from there to other states is off the table, but by global standards there is no real medical reasons why we shouldn’t be travelling between states. The EU is one big travel bubble and most EU countries have greater exposure to COVID-19 than Victoria.”


With our biggest tourism spenders from China barred from entering the country, all eyes pivoted to domestic tourism as the answer to get the travel wheel moving again.

The hope that the industry could claw back lost dollars through domestic travel, however, was dashed in late March when Australians were ordered into lockdown and states shut their borders for the first time in a century.

The decision to close domestic borders has not only been questioned by the federal government, but tourism experts alike who say the ongoing restrictions cannot be sustained, pointing to New Zealand as a prime example of “over-protection” failing to keep cases low long term.

New Zealand, like Australia, were quick to lockdown the country in March at the first sign coronavirus had crept into the country on February 28. But our Kiwi neighbours took their approach a little further.

The country went into a nationwide stage 4 lockdown on March 25, one of the strictest in the world, before being revised to stage 3 by April 27.

“Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open,” she said at the time of the shutdown. “If in doubt, the business premises should be closed. We must go hard and we must go early.”

in mid-April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her quest to wipe out COVID-19 completely, a bold plan that garnered admiration – and criticism – from all over the world.

“The costs of trying to maintain eradication are just going to be astronomical — I don’t believe that it’s sensible,” Simon Thornley, a senior epidemiology lecturer at the University of Auckland, told TIME.

“The small-business people who have put a lot of time and effort into their livelihoods are going to have it taken away through this lockdown.”

As New Zealand battles an expanding outbreak in Auckland, forcing the city into a 14 day stage 3 lockdown again, experts say Australia can learn a cautionary tale from our closest neighbours.

“New Zealand has virtually closed its borders since March 2020,” Dr Beirman said.

“The unfortunate re-emergence of COVID-19 in New Zealand after 100 plus days of no cases just shows that this disease respects no border closures or lockdowns. The damage of closed borders both international and domestic to tourism is unsustainable.”

Professor Bruce Prideaux, from CQ University’s School of Business and Law, said Australia rightly adopted health over economy as the key criteria for responding to COVID-19.

New Zealand has adopted a similar stance, however, they have now witnessing the hardship in maintaining such strategy.

“As NZ has found to its dismay, the COVID virus is extremely difficult to contain and has adopted an aggressive approach to spikes,” Prof. Prideaux told news.com.ai.

“Given the desire by all levels of government to combat the virus I suspect we will continue to see opening and closing of borders occurring when ever a major flare-up occurs. Even if NZ reopened as a bubble it could quickly shut down with no notice if a sudden spike appears.”


Throughout the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that states and territories should keep their borders open if possible, although softening his stance in light of the recent surge of cases in Victoria.

But National Cabinet’s key health committee has never recommended state borders close to contain coronavirus

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has always advised against the closure of even international borders, warning that such restrictions – including closures between states could “have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.”

“In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions,” it said.

Dr Sarah Gardiner, a senior lecturer in tourism from Griffith University, said the opening and closing of borders coupled with the ongoing uncertainty around domestic travel restrictions will make it “extremely difficult for many tourism businesses to survive” much longer.

“We have worked really hard in the sector to build a really vibrant and diverse tourism offering for Australians and international travellers and we need to emerge from this pandemic with that offer still available,” she explained.

“Protracted border closures are going to make it difficult to stay viable.

“Border closures have a significant impact on the tourism industry and are affecting the viability of tourism businesses. People travelling within the state tend to stay away only three nights. This doubles to six nights, on average, for interstate visitors.

“Therefore, interstate visitors are critically important to keeping the tourism industry alive, particularly while international borders are closed.”

Dr Beirman said it’s about time the federal government stepped in and put some clarity as to when borders should close and when a border should open, and perhaps setting up a national agreement.

“Simon Birmingham has finally done the right thing by cautioning state and territory leaders about carrying on like monarchs in their fiefdoms,” he said.

“COVID-19 has undergone many twists and turns since it was first officially revealed in China in November 2019.

“The NT Chief Minister seems to fancy himself as an old testament prophet making predictions 18 months ahead. There is a fine line between a legitimate concern to protect citizens from external health threats in a state or territory and destroying that state or territory’s economy in the process by being over protective.”