Australian “mystery flights” offer travel excitement

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Companies Down Under promoting deals to satisfy the nation’s lust for travel

Australia is combating the problem of travel-starved citizens by offering so-called “mystery flights” to destinations within the country.

The announcement came shortly after the government said that its borders will most likely remain closed until June at the earliest. Undeterred, Aussies are looking for ways to take advantage of what their homeland has to offer.

These mystery flights follow a spike in people deciding that an Australian road trip might be just the thing for these most unusual of times. It’s not, however, a new idea.

An Aussie tradition?

In the 1990s Qantas, Australia’s national carrier, offered an almost identical service: you pay your money and you’re whisked away to a random destination. These 21st-century trips offer a little more: either a one-day curated trip to a destination at a maximum flying time of two hours, or one, two or three-night packages to one of 21 possible destinations, including hotel and transfers.

They’re not cheap though, with one-night jaunts starting at $450 per person; despite this, when the first three flights were announced, they sold out in 15 minutes. So what’s the attraction?

“The cost is expensive, but I didn’t hesitate to decide to book,” says Brad Sinnatamby, who managed to get tickets. “I was working overseas in March last year, and once Covid hit I returned to Melbourne and was basically in lockdown for six months. I didn’t think I’d miss [travel], but I actually do.”

That seems to be the overriding sentiment, with other passengers saying that simply getting away and experiencing something new, even if it’s within their own country, is a huge draw.

Bringing tourism to hard-hit areas

The other aim is to bring tourism to parts of the country that have been hit hard over the last 12 monthsThe other aim is to bring tourism to parts of the country that have been hit hard over the last 12 months — Shutterstock

“Our customers tell us that where they can and can’t travel within Australia has been a bit of a mystery lately,” Stephanie Tully, Qantas Group’s chief customer officer, said in a news release. “The vaccine rollout is bringing a lot more certainty and domestic border restrictions should soon be a thing of the past. In the meantime, these flights turn that mystery into a positive by creating a unique experience for the many people keen to start traveling again.”

The other aim is to bring tourism to parts of the country that have been hit hard over the last 12 months by internal travel restrictions and lockdowns.

These restrictions also went a long way towards the idea of all-inclusive travel being a popular option.

“I have to admit even I was a little bit skeptical,” says James Kavanagh, Managing Director of Flight Centre Australia. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t people want a lot of certainty, with the way things are going?’”

But then the penny dropped: “A lot of people don’t know where they can go,” he says. “They find it’s a headache to deal with the planning.”

Environmental opposition

It’s heartening to see that people are still looking for creative ways to travel, but what of the environmental impact?It’s heartening to see that people are still looking for creative ways to travel, but what of the environmental impact? — Shutterstock

It’s heartening to see that people are still looking for creative ways to travel, but what of the environmental impact? It was thought that, post-Covid, people would slowly come around to the idea that you don’t necessarily have to fly everywhere.

Mark Carter, a spokesperson for Flight Free Australia, wonders why, in a climate emergency that’s been visible in Australia almost more than anywhere, these flights are running at all.

“Flying for holidays, to meet family, friends and business colleagues might seem unavoidable in a ‘normal’ world. But the world is normal no more.” He claims that Qantas saying they’ll offset their carbon emissions means that’s just “an excuse for more emissions”.

For their part, however, airlines and travel companies are remaining positive. Kavanagh agrees that “the decline in air travel at the moment is probably a good thing for the environment overall”, but isn’t too worried about “gimmicky things [like this] … moving the needle too much.”

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