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Jubilation over NZ travel bubble, with hints of caution

April 7, 2021 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Airlines, tour operators and agents are jubilant over the quarantine-free “travel bubble” between Australia and New Zealand, starting on Friday 19 April, less than two weeks away.

The announcement was made by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday afternoon. Industry leaders were quick to praise the move, though some pointed out it wouldn’t be a magic bullet or an instant solution for all travel sectors.

Ardern warned that quarantine-free travel would not be what it was before the advent of Covid-19.

“Those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’,” she said, referring to the fact that travellers must pay their own costs if a Covid-19 outbreak occurs in either country and keeps them there longer than they planned.

Travel insurance generally won’t cover a sudden outbreak of Covid-19 or the extra accommodation required t cover it – acts of government can be like acts of God in the eyes of insurers.

But most in the travel industry focussed on the bright side and on new  opportunities.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the airline was “incredibly excited to have the border reopen to our Aussie neighbours”.

“This is terrific news. I know Kiwis and Australians have been wanting to reconnect with whānau [family] and friends for a year now and we’re incredibly excited to be playing a part in those reunions.

“I’ll certainly be digging out my passport for the first time since I joined the airline to head across the ditch to see my family and I’m especially looking forward to meeting some of my grandchildren for the first time.

“Pre-Covid-19, Australia was the largest tourism market for both our airline and New Zealand. We know a lot of tourism operators have been feeling the lack of international visitors so we’re looking forward to playing a role in New Zealand’s recovery.”

From 19 April 2021, Air New Zealand will be ramping up flights between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown and its Australian ports. It’s updated flight schedule can be viewed here.

Qantas and Jetstar will operate up to 122 return flights each week across the Tasman.

Details are:

  • Flights operating to all pre-Covid NZ destinations, two new routes added
  • Qantas’ flexible booking policy extended with unlimited flight date changes
  • Frequent flyers can use points on every seat on every Qantas and Jetstar flight for first three days
  • Frequent flyers of other airline loyalty programs invited to fast track their status when they switch to Qantas

Qantas and Jetstar will restart flying to all pre-Covid destinations in New Zealand and will also launch two new routes direct from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast.

From 19 April 2021, Qantas and Jetstar will initially operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, offering more than 52,000 seats each week.

Qantas Frequent Flyer will also boost the number of Classic Reward seats for frequent flyers, making all seats in all cabins across Qantas and Jetstar flights for the first three days available as a Classic Flight redemption. For the remainder of 2021, frequent flyers will also enjoy access to 50 per cent more Classic Flight Reward seats on Qantas’ trans-Tasman routes.

“Hopefully, stories of missed weddings and birthdays on either side of the ditch will now be a thing of the past,” said Qantas Domestic and International chief executive, Andrew David.

“We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can’t wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia.”

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) welcomed the move.

“The opening of the trans-Tasman travel corridor from April 19 is a greatly needed boost to consumer confidence in both markets and many of our members are seeing increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family,” AFTA Chair Tom Manwaring said.

“It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much-needed step in the right direction.

“However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4 billion still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.”

Tourism Accommodation Australia’s chief executive Michael Johnson described the advent of the travel bubble from 19 April as a “step in the right direction” for Australia’s beleaguered tourism industry.

“With a new quarantine-free environment of both sides of the Tasman for travellers we will finally see the struggling hotel, hospitality, tourism and visitor economies of both nations benefit,” Johnson said.

“The opening of NZ will also allow us to begin to fine tune our international arrival and departure systems once again in preparation for the rest of the world – once worldwide and Australian vaccinations are successfully rolled out.

“Australians have been starved of international travel for more than a year now so I’m sure many of us will be heading across the ditch to sample the delights of New Zealand – especially the ski fields as colder months approach. Our Kiwi cousins also enjoy the relative warmth of our Aussie winters so we can expect an influx to hard-hit tourism spots like Cairns, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.

“This is a piece of good news for a tourism and accommodation sector which has had very little to smile about for more than 12 months – especially with many worried about the economic impact of the end of JobKeeper.”

The Accommodation Association said that while the trans-Tasman bubble was welcome, the reality was that there would be very little real benefit for Australia’s Tourism sector in the short term.

“The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction, but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels,” said Accommodation Association chief executive Dean Long.

“With the end of JobKeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible,” Long said.

“There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence, but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.”

“New Zealand will have a net positive gain with an open border with Australia. Australians represent over 50% of all visitors to NZ and we spend nearly AUD 1700 per trip with the majority on their ski fields. Total spend prior to Covid was AUD 2.5 billion with 1.5 million Aussies visiting as at year-end December 2019. Kiwis spend around AUD 1800 per trip with 1.2 million visitors to Australia, with total spend of AUD 2.1 billion.”

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) said the bubble would help to re-establish some of Australia’s long term travel relationships and marked the first step in reopening the export tourism industry to international visitors.

“Our industry will be very happy to hear that a travel bubble has been agreed between the Australian and New Zealand governments which will see one of our most significant markets back online,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.

“Australian tourism businesses, like those across the world, have suffered severely with the closure of international borders and this marks an initial step towards re-establishing our AUD 45 billion annual export industry.

“Thousands of tourism businesses across the country have suffered a severe drop in their income with the closure of international borders and many are simply holding on for announcements like this.”

Shelley said a recent ATEC survey of the export industry showed Australian inbound tour operators (ITOs) were suffering the most under the international border closures with 80% operating with less than 10% of their pre-COVID revenue.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) managing director Australasia Joel Katz said the announcement of a trans-Tasman travel bubble was a positive step forward for tourism in Australia and New Zealand, particularly for the many thousands of travel agents and other businesses that have been devastated by border restrictions over the past year.

He sounded a warning, however. “This announcement highlights the lack of progress being made towards a responsible resumption of local cruise operations, without which an estimated 25,000 jobs are still at risk across the region.

“Cruise lines globally have committed to extensive new health protocols in response to COVID-19, including 100% testing of all guests and crew. These measures are among the most comprehensive of any industry worldwide and are already working successfully in several countries overseas.

“Now is the time for governments in Australia and New Zealand to progress a phased and tightly controlled resumption of local cruising, operating initially for locals-only within domestic boundaries or within the trans-Tasman bubble.”

Globus family of brands (GFOB) declared itself “absolutely delighted” with the news from the New Zealand Government.

“We’re so excited with the news of the trans-Tasman bubble kicking off on 19 April,” said Gai Tyrrell, managing director Australasia of Globus family of brands. “So many have no doubt missed family and friends on both sides of the Tasman and are now able to reunite.

“Also, this travel corridor means Aussies can now experience our New Zealand itineraries that were launched in October last year. We developed these new trips specifically with Aussies and Kiwis in mind and worked with new suppliers to curate itineraries that visit a range of towns and cities to ensure there’s plenty of diverse experiences, suited to all types of travellers.”

GFOB’s collection of itineraries in New Zealand include one Globus tour and three by Cosmos, visiting New Zealand’s famous sites and lesser known regions, giving Aussies the opportunity to explore the country like a local.

Booking.com released its latest search data, revealing trending destinations in New Zealand to explore for our first taste of international travel.

Lesser-known destinations include:

  • Russell
  • Raglan
  • Kaiteriteri
  • Glenorchy
  • Ohope Beach
  • Omarama
  • Whakapapa Village
  • Takaka
  • Punakaiki
  • Wairarapa

“In this list of unexplored gems, beach towns trended over the New Zealand summer, with the picturesque and historic beauty of Russell in the far North and Raglan’s rugged surf on the West Coast proving particularly popular,” a spokesperson said.

In addition, Booking.com search data from February also reveals the overall top 20 most searched destinations in New Zealand for 2021. Some familiar NZ names here:

  • Auckland
  • Queenstown
  • Wellington
  • Taupo
  • Christchurch
  • Rotorua
  • Napier
  • Dunedin
  • Hamilton
  • Tauranga
  • Hanmer Springs
  • Paihia
  • Mount Maunganui
  • Nelson
  • Wanaka
  • Palmerston North
  • New Plymouth
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Whitianga
  • Kaikoura

In New Zealand, Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) said opening the borders with Australia was essential to ensuring the sector’s economic future.

“Australian clients are telling us they want to meet and do business person-to-person in New Zealand, and we can’t wait to welcome them back,” BEIA chief executive, Lisa Hopkins says.

“This is a much-deserved relief for our business events industry members who have really battled for the last year,” she says.

“Business events are planned and booked well in advance, and today’s news will give Australian organisers the confidence needed to plan and book their events in New Zealand, not just for this year, but further ahead.” See: Aussie visitors critical to NZ business events sector recovery

Written by Peter Needham

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