Grant Weir and Mandy Muschamp are off on a long-awaited trip to Europe, delayed due to the pandemic.
“We hadn’t been anywhere in three years,” Weir said. “There was a pent up urge to get away. We had been talking about this trip for two years.”
Weir, a TAFE educator, and teacher Muschamp, both from Melbourne, visited family during their trip, which included trips to Italy and Spain.
The pair are just one example of Australians flocking to Europe for the Nordic summer.
“The travel industry has been kept on guard as this pent-up demand has been unleashed,” Flight Center chief executive Brent Novak said.
Although many international carriers are still not operating at their pre-COVID capacity (and also despite the unprecedented heat in some European locations), travel to destinations traditionally popular with Australians has returned to pre-COVID levels or, in some cases exceed them.
“Between January and May this year, flight bookings from Sydney and Melbourne to places like London and Athens were well up on the same period in 2019, while flights to Rome at this time were approaching pre -COVID,” according to Novak.
Sydney-based designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley of AZB Creative traveled frequently for work and leisure before the pandemic. He recently spent five weeks in Europe.
“After decades of multiple OS trips every year, Europe, USA, South America, Bali, etc., being grounded has only made me more determined and committed to packing it all into a mission five-week creative and leisure time,” he said.
“I chose Europe because of so many incredible events that happened in June, culminating in the 40th birthday of one of my best friends.”
In this, Zabotto-Bentley and the Melbourne couple are part of a shift in Australian travel – according to the Federation of Australian Travel Agents (AFTA) and Emirates Airlines, VFR (visiting friends and relatives) travel has overtaken leisure as the main booking reason for Australians.
However, AFTA CEO Dean Long said COVID restrictions are a driver of increased holidays in Europe.
“Our main markets, meaning the main destinations for Australian travelers in Asia, are still mainly closed: Korea, Japan in particular, China to a lesser extent, but important for people traveling to visit to friends and relatives. The reason we’re seeing good travel numbers in Europe is because it’s really the only place with limited COVID restrictions.”
While London tops international destinations on Skyscanner’s Australian travel data this year, the aggregator saw a 69% monthly increase in searches for flights to Italy in May.
According to Skyscanner, the surge coincided with many European countries easing travel restrictions and COVID-19 measures.
A spokesperson for Emirates Airlines has confirmed that the UK, Italy, France, Greece and Ireland top the carrier’s list of destinations for Australians, accounting for 50% of “high demand and bookings from Australia, with robust traffic to European destinations throughout their summer.” “, with Spain, Lebanon, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey completing the top 10 destinations.
The large number of tourists traveling to Europe has contributed to problems across the continent with flight and baggage delays. London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest, has set a daily cap on the number of passengers it will allow airlines to bring to the airport as it grapples with staff shortages.
Reduced airline capacity as they struggle to recruit and restart services has also led to higher airfares.
Zabotto-Bentley booked its flights six months before the trip. “The prices were very reasonable, indeed. I would hate to book a flight now – it would be a carnage on the wallet.”
With airfares currently at high levels, Flight Center’s Novak says booking early should be every traveler’s strategy to get the best price.
“The simple tip for getting the best flight deals to Europe is to arrive early and book at least six months in advance if you can. Traveling to Europe for the northern summer could prove just as popular next year, so much more becomes available,” he said.