April 7 2021

By Bronwen Largier

A reciprocal travel bubble allowing quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand will kick off in under a fortnight at 11.59pm on Sunday April 19.

Confirming the timeframe and arrangements for the bubble on Tuesday afternoon, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it “an important step forward” in the country’s pandemic response and recovery.

“[It]…represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world – that is, safely opening up international travel to another country while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and a commitment to keeping the virus out.”

But the announcement held a note of warning, with Ardern saying, “people will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak”, and, when asked by the press pack, confirming that there wouldn’t be government assistance for anyone who was caught on the wrong side of the ditch should the arrangement be suspended.

“Just as we have alert level settings for managing cases in New Zealand, we will also now have a framework for managing an outbreak in Australia,” said Ardern.

“In many ways we will treat Australia as a region of our own when making decisions on restrictions, albeit one with the complication of multiple internal borders.”

The framework includes a “continue”, “pause” or “suspend” response to managing the bubble should an outbreak occur in Australia, as well as a range of potential measures on standby for those entering New Zealand from Australia, which could be enacted depending on risk, including asking travellers to monitor for symptoms, take a pre-departure COVID test, isolate on arrival or enter a managed quarantine facility for up to two weeks.

Australia’s Prime Minister also called the announcement “an important first step” and echoed similar comments from Ardern about the benefit of the bubble for the Australian economy.

On both sides of the Tasman, news of quarantine-free travel was met with jubilation and relief by the business events and tourism industries.

“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,” said Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) Chief Executive, Lisa Hopkins.

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

“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.

“Business events attendees spend more than any other visitor. They are here for business, education or trade, and will pay appropriately for the experience, bringing far-reaching value in terms of jobs, growth and opportunity,” she says.

“These visitors bring revenue to cities and regions during weekdays, off-peak and shoulder seasons, because they operate in a counter-cyclical nature to leisure tourism. This will be so important for winter 2021 and beyond,” said Hopkins.

Tourism Australia’s signature incentive event, Dreamtime, held in Perth in 2019, invited event planners from New Zealand and around the world to experience Australia’s incentive offering | Photo: Tourism Australia

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) also weighed in.

“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 $45 billion annual export industry,” said ATEC Managing Director Peter Shelley.

“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.”

Meanwhile, the response from Tourism New Zealand was positive but a little more subdued, with Interim Chief Executive René de Monchy saying the border opening would support the recovery of New Zealand’s international tourism industry and be valuable for both nations.

“We aren’t expecting Australian visitor numbers to return to previous levels for some time, and expect the first to travel will be those reconnecting with family and friends,” said de Monchy.

“Tourism must give back more than it takes. We have a strategic marketing approach to deliver exactly that and ensure visitors have clear expectations of how to look after our home.”