A travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand is most likely still around six months away, according to Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran.
The comments came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a press conference that the government is working to get more Australians home by opening up travel between Australia and New Zealand.
Last Thursday, Morrison announced an easing of the cap on international arrivals to help Australians stuck overseas.
New South Wales will take an additional 500 returned travellers from 27 October, and Queensland and Western Australia will be taking an additional 200, with WA promising to take an extra 500 a week by 11 October.
According to ABC News, Queensland will then take an additional 300 per week after 5 October and South Australia has already agreed to boost its capacity for international travellers by 360 each week.
This would bring the number of Australians allowed to return home from 4,000 to almost 6,000.
“Another way we’ll be able to help more Australians get home is we’re working to ensure that New Zealanders can come to Australia, and Australians can return to Australia from New Zealand without the need to go through quarantine if they’re not coming from an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19,” Morrison said.
“For example, the whole of the South Island is an area where there is no COVID. And so if we can get to the situation soon where those coming home from New Zealand are able to enter Australia without going into a 14-day quarantine in a hotel, or in the worst-case scenario, only having to do that in their home, then what that does is that frees up places in our hotel quarantine system.”
However, Foran said he doesn’t believe international travel will return this year.
“It’s hard to believe it would be before March next year and could well be longer. If it comes back quicker, we’re going to pop some champagne,” he told the The Sydney Morning Herald.
He said that despite vaccines expected to be rolled out by the end of the year, they will not be 100 per cent effective and distributing them will take years.
“In America… they’ve recently done a survey over there and only half the people said they’ll take the vaccine,” he said.
“And then, of course, we have reinfection rates.”
The Australian Chamber of Tourism chair, John Heart said that while the initial travel bubble proposal, which was to begin in June, was delayed due to the second wave in Victoria, the government has put plans back on the table.
“The bubble would provide up to an additional $3.6 billion economic benefit to Australia at a time when dollars are greatly needed and would mean thousands of Australian and New Zealand families would be able to reunite,” Heart said.
“Not only will safe travel with New Zealand bring tourism businesses much-needed customers, but it will free up capacity in quarantine to allow more Australians to return home, and for other priority arrival passengers such as sponsored skilled migrants and international students to come into this country.”
The lifting of the caps would also benefit hotels in cities housing people in quarantine.
Sydney hotel occupancy is currently at 27 per cent on average, while Adelaide and Brisbane are 38 and 42 per cent respectively compared to figures around 80 per cent last year.
“These pitiful rates are completely unsustainable, as is the fact that only 3,500 international visitors arrived in June compared to almost 800,000 in June last year,” Hart said.
“Furthermore, the impact of an 82 per cent drop in interstate travel on tourism has been devastating. In no way can intrastate tourism, which was also down 25 per cent in June, make up the difference. This situation means that opening the state borders remains the highest priority for tourism.
“Tourism needs all the good news it can get, and today is a good day on a very, very long road out.”
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