The global rollout of vaccines is likely to encourage governments to open key travel corridors and get economies restarted, but the restoration of global travel could take years, according to OneWorld CEO Rob Gurney. Gurney, who was joined by Darrell Wade, chairman and co-founder of Intrepid Group, and Anthea Hammon, Managing Director at Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, says “no-one knows when it will resume.”

Gurney believes that greater collaboration between airlines through industry platforms such as the OneWorld alliance and the International Air Transport Association is one positive to emerge from the crisis and will help to recover the sector.

Surviving through shutdowns

Family businesses had been hard hit by the crisis, said Hammon, who is also a director at Western Sydney Airport and at Bridgeclimb operator Hammons Holdings. The year since the crisis started had been “gruelling”, with a three-month shutdown of her two family businesses. Hammon had to meet with her teams and let them know she couldn’t pay them. “I cried at every meeting,” she said. “I felt like I was having a limb cut off every day.”

JobKeeper allowed the businesses to survive, along with support of the “family council” that operated at Hammons Holdings which had been set up in 2006 to separate business and family. In times of crisis, emotions run high and the council, with its non-executive directors with their “emotional disconnect” helped to take the emotion out of the equation. “The council was essential in getting us through the last 18 months,” said Hammon.

The businesses were also hit hard by the bushfires ahead of the pandemic, she said, but with 13 children in the next generation, the family wants the businesses to survive for them.

Signs of recovery

With Western Sydney airport due to open in December 2026, Hammon is hopeful that this will usher in a “second golden age of aviation” in NSW and Australia, with three-hour travel between Melbourne and the Blue Mountains.

And while agreeing it may take years for travel to get back to normal, she feels that global pent-up demand will help drive recovery, and the new airport would be well-placed to take advantage of this demand.

One unexpected positive to emerge from last year was a change in fundraising for Intrepid Travel, which raised twice the amount of money at its flagship event than the year before.

Wade, chairman and co-founder of Intrepid – which had a footprint in 80 countries at the start of the pandemic, said a 42km marathon walk traditionally held in one location had spread to 18 countries, with remarkable results. “We usually raise $75,000 from the walk but last year we raised double that amount,” Wade said. The funds go to a small community in Vietnam, who were “thrilled”.

“Too often businesses don’t take the time to think differently,” he said, adding that businesses should use the crisis to do just that and emerge stronger.

Watch a recording of the full session above.