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Trade warns visa backlog could hinder Australia bookings potential

The trade has welcomed Australia’s relaxation of Covid border restrictions but warned a visa backlog may hinder initial sales.

Skilled migrants and international students will be among those allowed entry, providing they are fully vaccinated, from December 1.

Eligible visa holders include working holidaymakers and provisional family visa holders. They must return a negative Covid test in the three days before travel.

Operators specialising in working holidays and youth travel hailed Australia’s partial reopening, but admitted longer processing times could mean travellers waiting months instead of weeks to get visas.

Australia stopped issuing visas during Covid.

Contiki UK sales and marketing director Donna Jeavons said uncertainty about a reopening date had been a major sales barrier.

“To have a date is fantastic,” she said. “We had already started to see an increase in enquiries and believe the [latest] news will give a real boost to the youth travel market and our Australia bookings.”

But noting a “two to four-month expected processing time” for visas, she pointed out: “Someone booking today may not be able to get to Australia until April. For students wanting to travel now, we’d expect this to dampen demand to a small degree.”

Contiki expects strong growth in gap year travel and working holiday visas in 2022 and has put dates on sale up to 2024.

Arron Mitchell, director for youth specialist operator Syte, was “over the moon” about the reopening but cautioned some clients had waited since March for visa authorisation.

He said: “There is a backlog. As visas start getting issued we will see a big increase in sales. We’ve had so many enquiries. We don’t advise people to make firm plans until they have a visa.”

Other operators hoped a wider reopening was now on the horizon. APT managing director Paul Melinis said: “This is a great first step. We hope [prime minister] Scott Morrison will soon extend its welcome back more broadly to double-vaccinated travellers.”

Fully-vaccinated Australians, permanent residents and immediate family have been allowed entry since November 1.

The UK is the top market for working holiday visas and more than 44,000 were issued to young travellers from the UK and Ireland in 2019.

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