Novak Djokovic’s treatment by Australian authorities earlier this year has put tourists off visiting the country, Adelaide Airport’s MD has said.
Speaking on the Australian Aviation podcast, Brenton Cox added it was a “logical fear” for many potential visitors that they could also be detained or deported after arriving in the country.
Cox highlighted the incident, along with elements of Australia’s response to the pandemic, as harming the aviation industry’s international recovery.
“What we have seen is that it’s the Aussies who are getting out and seeing the world – but people aren’t coming here,” he told host Adam Thorn.
“I just remember looking at the scenes when Djokovic was being booted out of the Australian Open. And at that moment, you went, ‘Wow, it’s a lot of eyeballs on this.’
“And there are a lot of people who – similar to the state border risk – thought, ‘Well, if I come to this country, am I going to be trapped? Or am I going to be stuck in a detention centre?’
“Right now, probably most of the people coming from overseas are doing so to visit friends and relatives, or for essential business. The big free, independent travellers haven’t quite made their way here yet.”
Novak Djokovic was last year told by a court to leave the country because he wouldn’t confirm his vaccination status for the Australia Open.
However, the incident was controversial because he was initially granted a visa, before being put into immigration detention and deported after a legal battle that made global headlines.
Australia’s vaccine mandate was later rescinded, and last week the new Federal Immigration Minister ruled the former World Number 1 would be allowed to enter the Grand Slam next year.
Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in January the decision to expel Djokovic kept “Australians safe”, but former Immigration Department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi called his treatment a “stuff-up”.
Cox’s appearance on the podcast came after he used a keynote speech at the Australian Airports Association Conference to call on the federal government to pass laws to stop states from shutting their borders in the event of another pandemic.
“The past few years conditioned us to think that closing State borders is normal — it is not normal,” he said.
“We all know that aviation was impacted more than most industries globally thanks to border closures and travel restrictions, but most people thought that our Australian aviation experience was shared elsewhere — it was not. We were unique in how we splintered.
“Even New Zealand, with its draconian policies, was significantly better off. New Zealand does not have states. But it also chose, for example, not to cut off the North from the South Island.
“Nearly as many people were flying between countries in Europe as within Australia.
“Aviation was smashed globally but no more so than here. The fact we are now operating at a service quality and capacity level half as well as we are now is some sort of miracle.”
Recent industry-wide figures released by the Department of Transport suggest that Australia’s international recovery is stalling, despite domestic bouncing back to near-normal levels.