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Passport delays and lack of flights for Aussies planning a European summer

Summer is in full swing in Europe, so some countries are implementing rapid testing schemes at airports to welcome in tourists. (Reuters: Stevo Vasiljevic)

Travel agents say Australians who are planning a European holiday this year should expect to pay 25 per cent more for their trip than pre-COVID prices.

Despite the opening of international borders, flight capacity is still limited and the tourism industry is dealing with a staffing shortage.

Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner said recent interest in international travel had been "huge" and the industry was struggling to attract enough staff. 

Mr Turner said a lack of airline capacity, especially out of Queensland, was also a major problem.

"The reality is, if you want to go to Europe in summer, late June, July, August, you need to get in quickly because there's just not enough seats," he said.

Tourism workers yet to return

Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner is hoping to open another 50 offices. (Supplied: Thomas Pawson)

Flight Centre had 21,000 staff globally before COVID but its workforce now is only about half that.

Mr Turner said an industry-wide staff shortage and an increase in demand for bookings had led to  "queues out the door" at some travel agents.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand," he said.

"All we want is more airline capacity, and we need more people to help our customers out as well.

"Because obviously, inevitably customer service will suffer a bit, or a lot in the odd case."

Passports applications double

People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  (Reuters: Pascal Rossignol)

Australian travellers are also being warned of delays to passport processing.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said following the reopening of Australia’s international border it had experienced high demand for passport services. 

Between January and March this year, DFAT issued about 390,000 passports – more than double the number it issued over the same period in 2021.

"Due to the high demand, passport applications are currently taking longer to process," the spokesperson said.

Passport applications are taking longer to process. (ABC Gold Coast: Sarah Cumming)

DFAT said travellers should allow at least six weeks for passports processing.

"Current processing times are, on average, 17 business days," the spokesperson said.

"This is well short of the time frame the department is encouraging customers to renew their passport."

Domestic passenger numbers near record 

Gold Coast Airport CEO Chris Mills said last month's passenger numbers were close to the previous April record set during the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

"When we recorded those numbers a couple of years ago international traffic was well and truly a key part of our business," he said.

"So to see these sorts of numbers we're achieving just short of pre-COVID levels without international traffic is a really good sign." 

Despite the ongoing staffing issues, Mr Mills said the airport was coping with operational challenges. 

"We've demonstrated we can manage these large numbers and keep people moving to their destination," he said.

Staffing a short term problem

Flight Centre says it is hoping to open another 50 offices as soon as it can find enough staff.

"The shops are all kept up to date but we just don't have the staff to open those last 50 or so at the moment," Mr Turner said. 

"Over the next six months, we'll be building up our staff numbers.

 "I think the [airline] capacity will be pretty much back to normal for the Christmas holidays. 

"We're pretty confident we'll get back to be able to really look after customers over the next two or three months, look after people really well."

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