Western Australia (WA) will be the last Australian state to open for business events travel while the rest of the country relaxes their borders and prepares to resume corporate events, much to the frustration of local event planners.
Most Australian states are moving towards an endemic Covid-19 policy as vaccination rates have hit 80 per cent. This comes as Covid cases are still rising, evident that the Covid-zero policy adopted since the pandemic started would be unsustainable.
On November 1, 2021, Sydney and Melbourne opened their borders to Australian citizens and permanent residents overseas, and no longer required inbound travellers to quarantine for two weeks on arrival. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has also signalled that the country will likely welcome international tourists by the end of the year.
But the state government of WA has insisted on keeping its borders shut for as long as possible in an attempt to keep its residents “safe”.
“Our premier has made it pretty clear that we’re not going to be having a Christmas with masks, which means that as a business, working towards end January is when we anticipate us opening up to the rest of the country. But it’s personally disappointing for us as well,” Renee Bennet, managing director of Encanta, told TTGmice.
“Obviously, we’ve got events taking place to connect with our counterparts on the east coast, which is extremely important for us. At the moment, I feel like Western Australia is a bit of a laughing stock in terms of our restrictions,” continued Bennet, who is also a board director at Business Events Perth and a councillor at the Professional Conference Organisers Association.
Bennet also expressed fears that WA’s restrictions could hurt its reputation for business events for years to come, much like its formerly expensive accommodation rates.
Recently, the WA government announced it would transition to dropping its borders when a target of 90 per cent vaccination rates is achieved, which some observers have noted could be too ambitious a goal. The state just reached 65 per cent rates last week.
But WA’s premier Mark McGowan said he would announce a border opening date once 80 per cent of its population aged over 12 are fully vaccinated, putting current estimations for the border change to take effect in late January at the earliest.
The state has earned the nickname “hermit kingdom” for its hardline border policy, which it argues has made the state safer from Covid and allowed its economy to thrive with a A$5.6 billion (US$4.1 million) surplus, the state’s biggest on record.
However, Melbourne-based Kate Smith, managing director at Waldronsmith Management and council member at Business Events Council of Australia, fears the prolonged closure of WA’s borders will have a nationwide impact for the industry.
“My view is that we need to be ready as one country as quickly as possible,” opined Smith. “Most of the national conferences rely on their West Australian delegates to join them and equally, if the conference is being held in Western Australia, the limitations it has placed on the sector within WA is hugely significant. This impacts us all.”
Western Australia has had just 1,112 Covid-19 cases and nine deaths to date, compared to more than 78,000 cases and 611 deaths in New South Wales.