International travel could soon be back on the cards, even if it's just a relatively short hop 'across the pond' to New Zealand, courtesy of a 'trans-Tasman bubble' sealed against COVID-19.
The move would be a boon for business travellers and holiday-makers, as well as a tourism industry that's been hammered by the coronavirus.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern have been working together for several weeks to establish the framework for a “safe travel zone” across the ditch, which both leaders expect will open "as soon as it is safe to do so", they said today in a joint statement.
Speaking to media after a meeting of Australia’s National Cabinet – which Ardern was invited to join via phone – Morrison explained that the ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ was “still some time away … it’s not something that’s about to happen in the next week, or anything like that.”
Months, not weeks
“When we’re seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns, (at) about that time, I would expect that – everything being equal – we’d be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland, or Christchurch, or things like that.”
Whenever that happens to be, being able to travel between Australia and New Zealand would require various health, transport and other policies and procedures to be put into place, some of which are yet to be developed.
Professor Kevin Markwell, Professor of Tourism at Australia’s Southern Cross University, tells Executive Traveller that "both countries have put in place measures that appear to be working at reducing COVID-19 infections and could get to a stage where it was considered by medical authorities safe to begin travel."
However, to keep the trans-Tasman bubble intact, Markwell says travel might be restricted to those with a lower risk of suffering serious illness “and perhaps requiring all travellers to download an app which could be used to track their movements within each country, in case this was necessary to trace contacts if any further outbreaks were to take place."
Qantas begins planning trans-Tasman return
Australia and New Zealand remain each other’s number one travel destination: 2019 saw some 2.6 million residents of each country jetting back and forth across the Tasman, according to Stats NZ.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has welcomed the prospect of recommencing flights between Australia and New Zealand, describing it as "a significant move” with implications beyond the neighbouring NZ market.
"We're hoping that if the New Zealand bubble idea gets traction, and that we're comfortable with that and that seems like it's working well, then a similar approach could be done with markets where countries have COVID-19 under control”, Joyce said this morning during a briefing on the airline’s COVID-19 response. "It could be a very good model to see the international market open up in phases.”
Although Qantas currently has no passenger flights jetting across the pond, if trans-Tasman restrictions were "to come off in June,” Joyce stated, "at seven days' notice we can add flights back to 10%, maybe at two weeks' notice up to 20%.”
Air New Zealand Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace says there’s a “pent-up demand” for travel between Australia and New Zealand that’s ready to be unbottled.
“We see that in business and corporate traffic, where people have to travel for business purposes, and we believe there'll be a whole bunch of families who want to reconnect," he tells Executive Traveller.
“We have about 20% of our available seat kilometres deployed across the Tasman, so that would be a positive outcome for us because we could start generating revenue to a market.”
Australian domestic travel could resume by late June, early July
Interstate border controls are determined and enforced by each state and territory government, but it’s expected that as broader restrictions in the community continue to be eased, ‘normal’ interstate travel could return within around 8-10 weeks.
“Hopefully, by the end of (school) term, school holidays … (people are) able to go and have a holiday on the Gold Coast, or in South Australia, or wherever it happens to be out of one’s home state,” Morrison continued. “Let’s hope that that’s possible.”
School term dates vary between states and territories, but the current term ends between June 26 and July 3.
If domestic travel were to resume from the same dates, this could similarly pave the way for trans-Tasman travel to also recommence around the same date, as hinted by the Prime Minister.