Upcoming holidays will be about reconnecting with loved ones for many Australians eager to replace FaceTime calls with tangible interactions.
Research by Tourism Australia found one-third of Aussies want to use travel opportunities to spend time with immediate family, while one-quarter were more interested in visiting extended family and friends.
For the Whelan family, this could not ring more true. When Scott Whelan flew from Brisbane at the start of March for his FIFO job in Western Australia, he had no idea seven months would pass before he could hug his wife, Sarah, and almost three-year-old daughter, Lily, again.
When border restrictions eased last week, Sarah and Lily jumped at the chance to fly to WA to reconnect the family unit.
“We have done a lot of video calling and that’s actually been quite nice to have a very verbal connection but it definitely has not been the same,” Sarah says.
“Lily didn’t start growing hair until she was two, so she’s gone from being quite bald to having a lovely head of hair. She’s definitely changed in terms of her vocabulary and is quite a few inches taller.”
With family in New Zealand, Sarah says border restrictions have highlighted just how isolated she is.
“Every school holidays, we would either fly to New Zealand or Scotty’s three children would fly to come see us, so we’d alternate,” she says.
“It’s interesting because (this period) has definitely changed what holidays will look like as any chance to travel, the focus is now to reconnect with family and friends rather than exploring.
“I didn’t actually realise how isolated Lily and I were from our families. When we were free to fly, I was constantly flying myself or family were flying to me, I didn’t even really notice the distance.”
While travelling to visit people will be a major driver for holiday-makers, an exclusive Humaniti survey for News Corp Australia reveals a shift in trends for choosing accommodation.
More than half surveyed say fair cancellation polices and clear health and safety protocols would make them feel confident about choosing a particular destination while discounts are also a big incentive.
To assist travellers in their planning, Tourism Australia this month launched the Australian COVID Travel Portal to collate key safety information, travel restrictions and current guidelines and border restrictions.
Travel expert Simone Scoppa from leading holiday rental website Stayz says the organisation has introduced increased cleanliness standards based on information from the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“On each Stayz property listing there is a cleaning practises section that details information a traveller might want to know such as no person-to-person check-in and whether the home is cleaned with disinfectant, and if there is a day to clean between guests stays,” Scoppa says.
Travellers looking to book ahead for summer should understand and read the cancellation policy of each holiday home.
“Travel across regional Australia is booming and holiday homes appear to be the choice for Aussie families and groups of friends to stay in a socially distanced environment away from other travellers,” Scoppa says.
“People are still pretty cautious about booking too far ahead, say a year out, and this changes from property to property as the cancellation policies are all different … whether it’s seven days, 30 days to no refund, so it’s good to know what you are booking and understand the terms.”
According to the Humaniti survey, 40 per cent of responders plan to replace an international holiday with a trip closer to home in Australia and half of those want to explore somewhere new.
Scoppa says it is possible to minimise risk of disappointment when booking in an unknown area.
“Travellers should check out reviews of holiday homes that they want to book to understand first-hand from another fellow traveller what the place is all about,” she says.
“We also have secure messaging via our app and website that allows you to ask the holiday home owner all the questions before you arrive too.”