SINGAPORE - Australia's slow, cautious and fragmented opening has made it a safer option for travellers worried about the large waves of Covid-19 infection in Europe, said experts, as the first Singapore tourists get ready to fly to the Land Down Under ahead of the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) opening on Sunday (Nov 21).
On Friday morning, it reported 1,508 locally acquired Covid-19 cases and 11 deaths, far lower than other Western countries and even Singapore.
Its well-managed Covid-19 situation means travellers can move around the country with greater peace of mind, especially if they have young, unvaccinated children in tow.
"While many pro-Australia travel fans are lamenting over the nation's strict measures and border controls, this also means a well-managed Covid-19 situation, where travellers can go around the country with greater ease when borders are lifted, feeling safe with lower odds of further infection waves," said senior director Joanne Taylor of travel consultancy FCM Consulting Asia.
"There are several Australian events which have grown in popularity globally taking place over the year-end and into the new year, including Sydney's New Year's Eve, as well as sporting events such as the Australian Open, Australia Sail Grand Prix and Cricket Australia. Australia's close proximity is also a draw."
The resumption of general travel to Australia, announced late last month, marks a tentative end to a border shutdown for Australia that began in March last year. It is already open to students and business travellers, and will now enter a new phase of opening to general travellers.
Since the VTL was announced, inquiries and bookings for trips from Singapore to Australia have surged, despite still lagging behind corresponding statistics for travel to Europe.
Online travel site Expedia Group said searches on its website for Singapore-Sydney flights increased by more than 70 per cent in the two weeks after news of the VTL, while searches for Singapore-Melbourne flights increased by more than 50 per cent.
Sydney is its sixth most searched-for destination for December and Melbourne is eighth. Both are ahead of Seoul, which is in ninth place.
Singapore-based searches for Australia on Booking.com likewise increased amid "greater travel intent", based on its data.
The travel booking site added: "Sydney in fact continues to be one of our top searched and booked destinations."
Observers and travel agents are unanimous in their agreement that travel volume will pick up and even overtake Europe by March next year, especially if more Australian states accede to the arrangement.
The VTL is currently extended only to New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. Western Australia, home to the second-highest number of Singaporean Australians, still remains closed.
Both Dynasty Travel and Chan Brothers Travel are already organising small group tours for keen travellers. A Dynasty Travel spokesman said 8,000 travellers booked its tours to Australia every year pre-pandemic.
The year-end period usually makes up about 35 per cent of this figure. It cited Australia's natural wonders, wide-open spaces, beaches, deserts and attractive mega cities as draws.
Mrs Ong, who works in the financial services sector, will be travelling to Australia next week with her family, including her eight-year-old son and three-year-old daughter.
The 36-year-old, who declined to give her full name, was initially interested in South Korea but chose Australia instead when she realised that her unvaccinated children will have to be quarantined upon arrival in South Korea.
"Australia was more viable for us. There is some worry for our unvaccinated kids but we have shifted our mentality to live with the virus. We really need the getaway since working from home has made it quite difficult for us to separate work and personal life."
Chan Brothers has organised a campervan trip to Sydney and New South Wales where travellers will be split into groups of up to six, with each staying and moving within their cohort.
Australia is a travel market almost as big to Singapore as many of the European destinations combined, making up 9 per cent of total passenger traffic for Changi Airport in 2019, although much of it is transit passengers still barred from the VTL arrangement.
The tour leader will help with route planning and suggestions but travellers are otherwise free to dictate their day.
One of those who signed up for the trip, Ms Angela Lim, 29, said: "A New Zealand road trip was the last trip my family and I planned for before it got cancelled due to the pandemic, and we didn't want to risk travelling too far out.
"We just want to take the time to relax, enjoy the natural scenery. We have had enough of the urban environment while working from home for the past 20 months or so," the retail sales manager added.