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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already begun her hard sales pitch to Aussies, pitching New Zealand to Australians as a “safe place to bring your family to visit”.
And this morning she is doing a round of Australian media to persuade would-be transtasman travellers to visit New Zealand.
And Air New Zealand says it has been “run off our feet” since 4pm on Tuesday, with thousands of Kiwis snapping up airfares to Australia after the announcement that the much-anticipated transtasman travel bubble would come into force on April 19.Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are the most popular destinations.
“Today is a new chapter in our recovery,” Ardern said.
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Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison was singing a similar tune, saying the announcement was a “win/win outcome”.
“This is an important first step,” he said, before adding New Zealand and Australia have “led the way” when it comes to dealing with Covid-19.
“We will welcome [New Zealanders] back as Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies.”
This was, Morrison said, the first of “many steps” to get back to normality.
Ardern said that the arrangement – whereby a travel bubble will be in operation while an elimination strategy is pursued – was a world first.
In less than two weeks’ time – at 11.59pm on Sunday, April 18 – travellers from Australia won’t be required to quarantine at a managed isolation facility before coming into the country.
The announcement of the bubble’s start date was immediately welcomed by a number of industry players.
BusinessNZ said this was a win for businesses of both sides of the Tasman; Wellington Airport said the news was a “delight” and Tourism Industry Aotearoa said the sector warmly welcomed the announcement.
Ardern was quick to get in her pitch to Australians thinking about coming to New Zealand.
“We are safe and [I] cannot underestimate how important that is in the Covid-19 world; we are a safe place to bring your family to come and visit,” she said.
She added that a trip to New Zealand would be the change of scene that so many Australians have been looking for.
“Now you have the option, come and see us,” she said, directing her comments to Australians.
Morrison, meanwhile, was also pitching Australia to Kiwis also looking for a holiday.
“After spending all that time in New Zealand, for the past year, I’m sure that many will be keen to get on the plane and come across to, Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania or wherever they would like to go.”
Ardern is speaking to Australian media this morning where she will be “acting as tourism promotion agent number one”.
And it appears she is taking her role very seriously.
Ardern revealed that when she spoke with Morrison on Sunday night the pair talked about when he would be able to come to New Zealand for face-to-face meetings.
“I expect that will be relatively soon,” she said.
“I’ll be looking to use the opportunity to take Prime Minister Morrison to an area that has previously enjoyed high levels of international visitors and that we want to put back on the world stage.”
She would not confirm if this place was Queenstown.
NZME Network graphic
In establishing the bubble, Ardern also released a new, traffic light system for dealing with potential Covid-19 outbreaks both in New Zealand, and in Australia.
That system is based on three possibilities: continue, pause or suspend transtasman travel.
If, for example, a case is found that is quite clearly linked to the border and it’s well contained, transtasman travel would continue as normal.
But if a case was found that was not clearly linked to the border and an Australian state responded with a short lockdown – flights to New Zealand from that state would likely be paused.
And if multiple cases of unknown origin were discovered, flights from that state, or states, to New Zealand would be suspended for a set period of time.
Although she said she was “excited” about the bubble coming into force, she did warn that quarantine free travel would not be the same as it was before Covid-19.
“Those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’,” Ardern said.
“People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”
There would be no Government assistance to anyone who gets stuck, Ardern confirmed.
And there are a number of requirements people have to meet before they travel across the Tasman, quarantine-free.
Would-be travellers must not have had a positive Covid-19 test result within 14 days of their flight, or be awaiting a test result.
And those coming to New Zealand could be subject to “random temperature checks”.
The opening of the bubble means roughly 1000-1300 MIQ slots will open up.
But 500 of these slots will be kept as contingency spaces, in case of a significant outbreak.
And a “small number” of MIQ facilities, which have only been suitable for travellers from low-risk countries such as Australia, will be decommissioned.
Air NZ 'run off our feet'
Air New Zealand has been “run off our feet” as thousands of Kiwis snap up Australian airfares with the launch of the transtasman travel bubble on April 19.
Airline chief executive Greg Foran said the three most popular destinations were Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, but fares were also flying out the door for the likes of Perth, Hobart and the Sunshine Coast.
“We’re pumped, isn’t it terrific news for Air NZ? It’s been a long time coming,” Foran told Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan. “There is plenty of demand, plenty of places to go, it’s terrific.”
Foran himself was booking a flight to Sydney to see his three children, including NRL rugby league star Kieran, who plays for Manly.
One-way Air NZ fares between Auckland and Sydney from April 19 are selling for as low as $282, for a seat only and no luggage. A return flight a week later is selling for $355 on the same terms.
Foran said the airline was providing about 50 per cent of pre-Covid capacity, and hoped that might soon get closer to 100 per cent. “We’re ready to fly when our customers are ready to fly.”
A win for business
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said the bubble announcement was a win for businesses on both sides of the ditch.
“New Zealand’s tourism and hospitality sectors have suffered the full force of Covid-19. Today’s news will give them great encouragement that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Hope said.
“Australia is our second-biggest trading partner and New Zealand’s largest international visitor market, accounting for almost half of all international visitor arrivals, so this is an important step in getting our key service sectors operating again.”
Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett said the announcement was a big moment for families, tourism and business, but safety had to remain a priority.
“This long-awaited travel bubble with our biggest trading partner is a pilot to prove we can open our borders and keep travellers and residents safe,” he said.
“Opening up to Australia is an important step in boosting confidence and personal, business and trade ties but it will not be an instant panacea and will not herald a return to pre-Covid boom times.
“We can see the glimmer of a more stable future with vaccination rolling out, a containment and elimination response framework in place and application of new knowledge and better safeguards to reduce the uncertainty and risk of further lockdowns.
“We just have to remember that we are all in it together and everyone has to do their bit to keep us all safe.”
Wellington Airport CEO Steve Sanderson said he was delighted with the news and eager to welcome travellers in both directions.
“We believe there is significant pent-up demand for travel to and from Australia. Families and friends who have been separated are eager to see each other; and there is increasing demand from Australia for safe international holiday options.”
“As an extra layer of precaution we have worked to implement all Ministry of Health guidance to ensure everything possible is done to maintain a safe and hygienic environment for travellers. This includes increased cleaning, regular Covid-19 testing of all border-facing staff, thermal camera temperature checking of all arrivals, and signage to remind visitors of Covid requirements including use of the Covid tracer app.”
Taupō District Mayor David Trewavas said the travel bubble offered a chance to support the tourist destination’s post-Covid recovery.
“Prior to Covid-19, Australia was New Zealand’s largest international visitor market, making up for almost half of all international visitor arrivals and spending $2.7 billion in 2019,” he said.
“That affords us many opportunities to tap into that market once again, particularly coming into another ski season, with 71 per cent of all international arrivals who skied being Australian.”
Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF) co-chair Ann Sherry said the announcement was wonderful news for the 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia who will now be able to travel home to see families and friends and share important occasions.
“It is also great for all the Australians who are keen to have a holiday in New Zealand, and New Zealanders wanting to holiday in Australia without going through quarantine on their return. We expect there will be significant pent-up demand. We hope that tourism companies on both sides will benefit from the resumption of quarantine free travel.”
Expert says it's a positive step
Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said the bubble’s opening marked a “significant milestone” in our pandemic response.
“Given that Australia has also managed a successful elimination strategy and have excellent surveillance systems in place, travellers from Australia currently pose little risk,” he said.
“Should an outbreak occur in one of the Australian states we would learn about it quickly and our government would have time to take steps to manage travel from any affected region.”
Nonetheless, Hendy said anyone travelling to Australia should be aware that their plans could be disrupted by outbreaks on either side of the Tasman.
“Both countries have had failures at MIQ facilities from time to time, and when this happens, travel restrictions may need to be brought back in,” he said.
“Travellers should be prepared for an extended stay or to self-isolate or quarantine on return.”
Furthermore, he added that allowing quarantine free travel from Australia would also open up spaces in our MIQ facilities for travellers from other, higher-risk countries.
“I would suggest that Government take this opportunity to consider retiring some facilities, including those that have no exercise space on site or those that have proved more difficult to manage,” he said.
“This might still see an increase in MIQ places for Kiwis returning home from other parts of the world, while managing the overall risk at the border.
“Overall, the opening of a travel bubble with Australia is a positive and welcome step, which reflects the success that both countries have had in managing the virus.”
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