Fiji most popular destination as international travel surges
With international travel restrictions easing, Natalie Hawke felt confident enough to book a trip abroad on a whim after seeing an advert online.
“He just popped up on Facebook,” said Hawke, a Sydney-based clothing production manager. “The package was pretty good, with flights, accommodation and all meals included.”
“The price of what we were going to get in Sydney compared to luxury accommodation overseas, I just couldn’t justify (a domestic holiday).”
In August, Hawke and his family will travel to Fiji. She’s not alone – the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Short-Term Departure Statistics shows that Fiji has become the number one destination for Australians.
In December, more than 8,000 Australians returned from trips to the Pacific nation, 15% of the total, ahead of the United States (6,640) and the United Kingdom (5,610).
Hawke isn’t the only one feeling encouraged by the easing of restrictions.
“It’s really promising to see how immediate the response from Australian travelers has been, with interest in travel increasing in line with recent border openings,” said Lisa Perkovic, travel expert at Expedia.
“Since announcing Australia’s reopening to international tourists, we’ve seen interest in international travel among Australian travelers increase by almost 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 in Fiji have steadily increased since hotel quarantine was lifted for fully vaccinated travelers in December.
Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill said a combination of unprecedented deals and easing of restrictions was fueling Fiji’s 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 of this,” a- he declared.
While Fiji has proven popular, other traditionally favored destinations remain difficult to access. New Zealand and Japan are still closed to tourists, while Bali, which recently reopened to visitors, requires arrivals to self-isolate for up to five days.
“Bali, New Zealand, Japan and Vanuatu are still largely closed,” said Kelly Spencer, chief executive of Flight Center Australia. “They haven’t opened their borders or required a significant quarantine on arrival to deter people from traveling at this time.”
The US, UK and Western Europe are better options, all of which welcome fully vaccinated foreigners (Australian government travel advice for Europe has not changed, despite the conflict in Ukraine) .
“These countries have minimum travel requirements,” Spencer said. “They also don’t change their pre-trip departure requirements too often, which gives travelers more confidence.”
Australians will also finally see the return of European summer holidays in 2022 – albeit on a smaller scale than before the pandemic. France, Germany, Spain, Croatia and Greece are among the options currently available to Australians thanks to increasingly visitor-friendly border entry policies.
“Traditionally, these have all been popular destinations to spend the summer months. All have phased out pre-departure testing or quarantine for vaccinated travellers, making them relatively straightforward destinations to travel to.”
Overall, Australians taking overseas trips remain well below pre-pandemic levels, with just 52,000 returning from short-term trips in December 2021, down from over 1.4 million in January 2020 Omicron has been blamed for the slow return to international travel, with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce estimating this week that the highly contagious variant had delayed the industry’s recovery by six months.
Hawke, meanwhile, is grateful that Fiji recently relaxed its testing requirements for visitors, removing the requirement for a negative PCR test result before departure in favor of a negative RAT. She will also only need a negative RAT to return home since Australia eased its testing requirements for arrivals last month.
“You had to pay an exorbitant cost there – I think they were quoting FJ$350-400 (A$229-$261) per test,” she said. “Now that it seems to be stabilizing here and the rest of the world is opening up, I feel more confident about leaving Australia.”