New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced she is prepared to open up its borders and create a quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia early next year.
No specific date has been set by Ms Ardern for the New Zealand – Australia travel bubble, but the government has announced that the plan is contingent on both countries, but particularly Australia achieving 28 days straight without community spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It is our intention to name a date for the commencement of trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel in the new year,” Arden said in a press conference. The timeline of the New Zealand – Australia travel bubble will be confirmed by respective governments “once remaining details are locked down,” she said.
Air New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Greg Foran has praised the announcement, adding that his airline is preparing for an increase in international travel across the Tasman sea.
“Safety is obviously a big priority for our airline, and we’ve been working closely with governments, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up,” Foran said.
In terms of how many flights Air New Zealand is planning on scheduling, should the New Zealand – Australia travel bubble be confirmed, Foran said that “we appreciate people are enthusiastic about travel, and we can assure customers that as soon as it is viable, Air New Zealand will be ready.”
As it stands, customers can purchase a ticket with Air New Zealand, but Australian citizens are required to apply for permission to fly, and spend two weeks in quarantine.
A Qantas spokesperson has said that “we know there’s a huge amount of pent-up demand for travel between Australia and New Zealand and we’re looking forward to adding significant amounts of capacity across the Tasman once details about the bubble and when it will begin is confirmed.”
Qantas’ budget arm, Jetstar has announced that if the trans-Tasman travel bubble is to go ahead, this will mean good news for Australian customers looking to fly domestically. The airline is planning to schedule more capacity throughout February and March than ever before.
Jetstar is planning on using aircraft bodies that would have otherwise been flying international routes to increase domestic flight capacity to more than 110% that of pre-COVID transit numbers.
Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans has issued a statement saying that “while international borders remain closed, more Australians are set to explore places around the country they have never visited, which is great news for local hospitality and tourism operators.”
In terms of ticket prices inside the New Zealand – Australia travel bubble, airlines are expected to make one of two choices: provide affordable tickets and encourage more passengers to make the trip, or list ticket prices significantly higher than average to recoup losses incurred throughout 2020.
According to a report from the ABC, “as prices stand at the moment, a return trip to Auckland in the second week in February would cost anywhere between $1,200-$1,900, depending on where you fly from.”
Brisbane is currently the cheapest point of departure for flights to New Zealand, while flights departing from Adelaide are the most expensive.
In terms of the potential of flight cancellations, if the New Zealand – Australia travel bubble is not confirmed, the ACCC has issued a statement saying that changes to travel plans resulting from government restrictions may not be eligible for a refund, and customers should familiarise themselves with an airline’s refund policy.
The ACCC has said that the commission has recorded a more than 500% increase in the number of travel-related issues and complaints. The ACCC’s Commissioner Sarah Court has told the ABC that “we saw some examples of businesses retrospectively changing the terms and conditions and saying, ‘Oh look, because of COVID, the terms and conditions don’t apply, you can’t get a refund,’ when that was not the case.”
Typically, in the event travel plans are changed as the result of government restrictions, airlines will offer the opportunity to change flight dates before offering a refund of the purchased ticket.
That report from the ABC quotes Dr Char-lee Moyle, senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, who expects tourist numbers to be trumped by those on business trips in the first few months of a potential travel bubble.
“Some people are putting it [traveling] off. People are doing shorter trips closer to home, like driving, because it is more certain,” he said. “Even when we open up, getting people’s confidence back will take some time,” Dr Moyle added.
“It comes down to how well it is marketed, are we giving them good deals?”
“We need to think how we can market to New Zealand and be safety conscious. We are going to see a shift in behaviour,” he says, adding that “we will see maybe people wanting to do more nature – people will want to disperse more than be in large crowds,” Moyle said.
“Tourism will come back, but it will be slower to rebound,” Dr Moyle added, “it’s not that they don’t have the money for it, it will be getting them to spend.”