New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed April 19 as the keenly-anticipated date for the removal of quarantine for Australian travellers.
Given most Australian states have already scrapped the need for quarantine for Kiwis, the decision opens up the bubble, and returns the trans-Tasman allies to pre-COVID travel arrangements.
“We are now able to take this next step and it is a world-first,” Ardern said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move was a “win, win”.
“Both countries benefit from that occurring.
“And all in time for Anzac Day … which is tremendous, to see that occur in the true Anzac spirit of our two nations coming together again.”
Qantas said a new daily service from the Gold Coast to Auckland would commence when the bubble opens, marking its first-ever international flight from Gold Coast Airport.
A new Cairns-Auckland route would also launch in time for the June long weekend, operating three days a week. Flights would initially operate for nine weeks until late July, and Qantas may add more flights beyond this period if there was demand.
Qantas and Jetstar would initially run up to 122 return flights a week across the Tasman on 15 routes, offering more than 52,000 seats each week.
Virgin, however, has suspended services until October 31 except for a limited number of flights to and from Queenstown.
It said it was doing this because of the border requirements “which add c0mplexity to our business”.
It said it remained committed to trans-Tasman travel.
The decision will delight hundreds of thousands of families separated by the pandemic. It is also a sign of hope for tourism operators on both sides of the Tasman.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the announcement of a trans-Tasman bubble was “fabulous news’’ and a step in the right direction that should give the industry some hope that international borders would gradually re-open.
“We had hardly dared dream about that scenario and it seems from the middle of the month we can practice with New Zealand and demonstrate that it is possible to do so,’’ he said.
“New Zealand is an important partner and in 2019, pre-Covid, more than half a million came to Queensland and they spent more than $632 million in Queensland in 2019 and we are pleased to see we can tap into that significant market once again.
“With winter coming on we hope we can convince New Zealanders to come over and an enjoy the tropical and sub-tropical areas of Queensland. It will take a bit of time but it gives us the time to rebuild the confidence that you can travel internationally.
In more good news, Gschwind said Easter turned out better for tourism businesses than it looked in the week before.
The decision from the New Zealand Government also ends a tortured 11-month journey from when the bubble was first agreed to its implementation.
Ardern and Morrison signed off on an in-principle goal to re-open borders last May, but outbreaks and planning challenges saw New Zealand delay re-opening.
The New Zealand leader acknowledged those that had suffered due to the necessary border arrangements.
“The Director-General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine free travel is safe to commence,” Ardern said.
“One sacrifice that has been particularly hard for many to bear over the past year has been the separation from friends and family who live in Australia, so today’s announcement will be a great relief for many.
“Like everyone else … I have family and friends in distressing situations because we have had this border in place.
“The bubble will give our economic recovery a boost and represents a world leading arrangement of safely opening up international travel while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and keeping the virus out.”
Australian and NZ borders have been shut to almost all non-citizens since March last year, with both countries requiring arrivals to spend a fortnight in quarantine before entering the community.
Ardern also announced a new traffic light style system to guide Kiwis while travelling overseas, saying they may be subjected to prolonged stays in Australia or quarantine on return in the event of outbreaks.
“Quarantine free travel will not be what it was pre-COVID-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’,” she said.
“People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak.”
Flight Centre Travel Group managing director Graham Turner said the new trans-Tasman travel bubble would deliver significant and much-needed benefits to both countries’ economies.
Turner stressed that these potential benefits would only be realised if borders remained open and travellers were not forced to frequently amend plans.
“Given tourism’s importance to both countries, this is a job saver for thousands and a potential lifeline for many businesses across a wide variety of sectors, including hospitality, tourism, aviation and travel,” Turner said.
“There is considerable pent-up demand for travel, as we have clearly seen in the aftermath of domestic travel restrictions being lifted in Australia, and we expect a very strong and positive reaction to this new policy, which will effectively remove the need for travellers to isolate when they arrive in or return to New Zealand as they needed to do under the previous one-way bubble.
“This two-way bubble is a vastly superior proposition for travellers and we expect very strong demand in both the leisure and corporate sectors, as many Aussies and Kiwis grab the opportunity to take-off after more than 12 months of heavy restrictions and lockdowns.
“To ensure its success though, governments need to do whatever they can to quickly contain any further COVID-19 clusters and to keep borders open including rapid testing and faster roll-out of vaccination programs.
“These factors will also be critical to the creation of other travel bubbles in the near-term.”
Pre-COVID, New Zealand was the largest market for Australian outbound travel and the second largest source of Australian inbound travel behind China.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, about 1.5 million Australians travelled to New Zealand during the 2019 calendar year – about 13 per cent of total Australian short-term resident departures – and about 1.4million New Zealanders visited Australia.
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