NZ travel bubble: Airlines prepare for flights after Ardern’s comments
Airlines are eager to ramp up flights between Australia and New Zealand after NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said quarantine-free travel between the two countries could resume early next year.
In long-awaited news for both sides of the Tasman, Ms Ardern said yesterday her Cabinet had agreed to establish the quarantine-free corridor in the first quarter of 2021, as long as Australia kept COVID-19 case levels low, and pending our own Cabinet approval.
“It is our intention to name a date of when the bubble will start in the New Year,” Ms Ardern said.
“The opening of the bubble is contingent on Australia’s Cabinet signing it off, and that the COVID-19 situation in either country doesn’t change.”
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While no firm date has been given, the two-way travel bubble is anticipated to begin by March, allowing Australians to freely travel to New Zealand without needing to go into quarantine for the first time in 12 months.
The current one-way travel arrangement allows New Zealanders to travel to most of Australia, except for Western Australia and the ACT, without having to quarantine.
Australia and New Zealand are traditionally each other’s number one travel destinations, with about 2.8 million residents from both countries travelling across the ditch in 2019.
Virgin Australia said it welcomed the New Zealand government’s decision and had more than 70 services to New Zealand from March 28, 2021 on sale.
They include multiple services per week between major Australian cities and Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown.
“The New Zealand Government’s ‘in principle decision’ to establish quarantine-free travel with Australia early next year is very much welcomed and provides further confidence for travellers and those looking to do business across the Tasman,” Virgin Australia said in a statement.
“While services are currently on sale from late March, the decision gives us time to prepare aircraft and crew for re-entry into New Zealand skies.
“We’ll continue to review and adjust our schedule in line with demand and the start dates for quarantine-free travel being worked through by the respective governments.”
Qantas currently operates a few weekly services between Sydney and Auckland and will be keen to boost services once details of the travel bubble are confirmed.
“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,” a Qantas spokesman said.
The news has also been welcomed across the ditch.
Wellington Airport corporate affairs general manager Jenna Raeburn said the airport, which previously operated 70 trans-Tasman flights each week, had been ready for the two-way arrangements for “several months”.
“We will be prepared to go as soon as the government and airlines can confirm arrangements,” Ms Raeburn told the New Zealand Herald.
“We are feeling the loss of our connection to our closest neighbour.”
New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, is eagerly anticipating the return of Australian travellers.
“New Zealand and Australia have a unique relationship and the prospect of a trans-Tasman bubble is creating excitement in both countries,” said Nick Hill, the chief executive of Auckland Unlimited, the city’s tourism body.
“Auckland is undergoing a massive transformation and our Aussie friends can look forward to experiencing a lot more than before.
“Our culinary scene is top notch, we have new accommodation offerings and two of New Zealand’s top international attractions – Weta Workshop Unleashed and the All Blacks Experience – have opened their doors in the heart of the city’s entertainment precinct. Auckland is certainly open for business and ready to welcome you back.”
There’s plenty more on offer outside the city centre, Mr Hill said.
“From stargazing on Great Barrier Island – the first island in the world to be granted the dark sky sanctuary status — to vineyard hopping on Waiheke Island, or coastal clifftop glamping experiences, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has so much to offer, whether you’re visiting friends and family, or travelling here for the very first time.”
Tourism Industry Council managing director Simon Westaway told Nine Newspapers it was likely more Australians would visit New Zealand than the other way around.
However, it would be a good test as Australia looked to open its borders to parts of Asia next year, particularly Singapore, Japan and some parts of China.
“Whilst the New Zealand-Australia travel bubble may see Australians move across the ditch and possibly not travel in their own country – the reality is we do need to establish travel bubbles,” Mr Westaway said.
“Singapore has already offered Australia a green lane, and that should really be a focus for us in the new year.”