New Zealand tourism businesses will be gratefully awaiting the arrival of Australian travellers who previously made up 40% of international arrivals and spent $2.7bn during their stay.
Data from Tourism New Zealand also shows that 89% of Aussie visitors stay a minimum of four days, and this will be crucial for tourism operators who have been doing their best to survive on domestic travellers only. Although the “team of 5 million” Kiwis has made a concerted effort to support the industry, domestic travel is heavily skewed toward weekends and public holidays. Operators will be excited at the prospect of having an additional supply of midweek customers.
The confidence to be able to plan staffing and other resources will also help improve the mood of the industry. Although the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, did not give a fixed date and it comes with conditions, Monday’s announcement did state this would be confirmed early in the new year.
Several airlines have already placed their bets and announced additional services beginning 28 March, including what would be the first scheduled flights into New Zealand’s tourist hotspot of Queenstown for over 12 months.
Around the world, tourism operators will be pleased to see the bellwether response of airlines that in the two days since Ardern’s announcement have already poured capacity into the sector.
Travellers may be encouraged to see that prices are consistent with pre-Covid travel between the countries. Prices could sharpen further as other airlines eye the potential opportunity, especially those such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates which operated in the market last year.
Additional price competition may also come from new operators taking advantage of distressed prices for the assets of airlines that did not survive 2020. New Zealand real estate mogul Mike Pero has announced his new Pacifika Air venture will offer flights between both Wellington and Christchurch and Rarotonga and it would not surprise to see him or others jump on the bandwagon.
There are, however, a few logistics to be sorted out. Airports on both sides of the Tasman will need to ensure separation of “green” passengers from those being repatriated from countries still affected by the virus. The main international airports in New Zealand have been working on their plans for this for months. New Zealand is still encountering Covid cases at the border during quarantine and if an infected passenger returning from another country came into contact with a trans-Tasman tourist the consequences could be disastrous for both countries.
The other key detail to be determined will be ensuring that any opening of borders with further countries is agreed bilaterally. Singapore is one of several countries already allowing New Zealanders to visit without quarantine and they are likely to be one of the first to put their hand up to join the bubble. For this to happen, indeed for any country to be added, it is vital that both New Zealand and Australia agree.
Several Australian states have been offering quarantine-free travel for Kiwis for some time now, but this was never reciprocated and any New Zealanders who chose to visit Australia still had to quarantine – at their own cost – upon their return. This highlights the different risk profiles of the two countries and why any additional inclusions to a travel bubble must be decided together.
Covid-19 and 2020 have shown that three months can be a very long time. Still, the tourism industry and travellers, including many families with members on either side of the Tasman, will be looking forward to the first step towards normal international travel returning.
Anthony Gardiner is a marketing strategist who recently completed an MBA with Otago University focused on sustainable tourism recovery from Covid-19