Tourism

Travel industry reacts to New Zealand’s trans-Tasman bubble announcement

The announcement of quarantine-free travel from Australia to New Zealand has been met with plenty of positive reactions from all corners of the industry.

A number of airlines, tourism boards, industry bodies and wholesalers have shared their thoughts on the trans-Tasman bubble becoming two-way (you can read all about how it will work here) as well as their plans to capitalise on what is sure to be a travel boom between the two countries.

Here’s Travel Weekly’s wrap of industry responses:

Airlines

Qantas and Jetstar will restart flying to all pre-COVID destinations in New Zealand when the two-way trans-Tasman bubble opens later this month.

The national carrier will also launch two new routes direct from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast.

From 19 April 2021, Qantas and Jetstar will initially operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, offering more than 52,000 seats each week.

Qantas Frequent Flyer will also boost the number of Classic Reward seats for frequent flyers, making all seats in all cabins across Qantas and Jetstar flights for the first three days available as a Classic Flight redemption.

For the remainder of 2021, frequent flyers will also enjoy access to 50 per cent more Classic Flight Reward seats on Qantas’ trans-Tasman routes.

Andrew David, CEO of Qantas’ domestic and international operations, said Australia has always had an incredibly close relationship with New Zealand, but in the past 12 months, it’s never felt further away.

“Restarting flights to New Zealand is about more than starting to rebuild our international network – it’s about reconnecting families and friends and getting more of our people back flying again,” he said.

“Hopefully, stories of missed weddings and birthdays on either side of the ditch will now be a thing of the past.

“We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can’t wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia.”

As part of the existing one-way bubble, the Qantas Group has been operating less than three per cent of its pre-COVID capacity on the trans-Tasman. The new flights will see this increase to 83 per cent.

Image source: iStock/suriya silsaksom

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said the airline is incredibly excited to have the country’s border reopen to Aussies, and is now selling trans-Tasman flights.

“This is terrific news. I know Kiwis and Australians have been wanting to reconnect with family and friends for a year now, and we’re incredibly excited to be playing a part in those reunions,” he said.

Air New Zealand has been preparing for a trans-Tasman bubble for a few months now, bringing approximately 330 recalled crew back on board and ensuring they are up to speed with training, along with making sure its international airports and lounges are ready for the influx of customers.

Virgin Australia said the NZ government’s decision to establish quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is a step in the right direction, and provides a boost of confidence for travellers looking to reunite with family and friends and do business across the Tasman.

“While the airline remains committed to trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations,” A Virgin spokesperson said.

“For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September 2021.

“We are working with Air New Zealand to provide impacted customers with alternative options and will be contacting them directly. In all cases, options to select new travel dates or obtain a refund to the original form of payment are being made available.”

Tourism boards

Tourism New Zealand’s interim CEO, René de Monchy, said the country’s border reopening to Aussies supports the recovery of its international tourism industry and is 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,” he said.

“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.

“Tourism New Zealand has been working hard to keep Aotearoa top of mind for Australian visitors over the last year. We will need to work even harder to convert this into bookings.”

René de Monchy

De Monchy said Tourism New Zealand is planning activity to ignite visitation and leverage the pent-up demand and desire to travel.

“Our activity is driven by research and insights and by what New Zealanders expect from the tourism industry,” he said.

“These insights ensure the tourism sector is well-positioned for recovery and ready to attract Australian visitors again.”

“Our research shows over half of Australians are motivated to have a holiday that includes fun and enjoyment (56 per cent) and to relax and refresh (53 per cent). This presents a great opportunity for operators and businesses to offer experiences that appeal to this.”

Visit Sunshine Coast (VSC) chief executive Matt Stoeckel warmly welcomed the news as a critical step for the region’s tourism recovery.

“Prior to the pandemic, New Zealand was our number one international market with 84,000 annual visitors, 650,000 room nights, and an economic value of $110 million. It’s a market that also has huge potential for the Sunshine Coast and strategically important for the region,” he said.

“Previously, the New Zealand holiday visitor would stay for an average of 7.9 nights, and with seasonal direct flights from Auckland, Kiwi travellers have found our climate, nature-based experiences and laid-back lifestyle particularly attractive over the winter months.

“We know there is huge pent-up demand in New Zealand for international travel and have been working in the background to prepare for the borders to reopen.

“We have a dedicated resource in New Zealand that has been developing strategies and activities for our market re-entry that will commence from [today] in anticipation of the first services to Australia from 18 April 2021.

Over the coming months, VSC will also roll out a robust industry development program which will comprise mentoring and a set of workshops to assist Sunshine Coast operators to maximise opportunities from the New Zealand market.

Industry bodies

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said the ability to travel between Australia and New Zealand without quarantining is a much-needed confidence boost, but warned of the need for a consistent approach to keeping the corridor open.

“The opening of the trans-Tasman travel corridor from April 19 is a greatly needed boost to consumer confidence in both markets, and many of our members are seeing increased interest in booking NZ, albeit primarily to visit friends and family,” he said.

“It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support, but it is a much-needed step in the right direction.”

“However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open.

“This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents, who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4 billion still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on COVID-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.”

Joel Katz, managing director for Australasia at the Cruise Lines International Association, said: “The announcement of a trans-Tasman travel bubble is a positive step forward for tourism in Australia and New Zealand, particularly for the many thousands of travel agents and other businesses that have been devastated by border restrictions over the past year.

“However, this announcement highlights the lack of progress being made towards a responsible resumption of local cruise operations, without which an estimated 25,000 jobs are still at risk across the region.

“Cruise lines globally have committed to extensive new health protocols in response to COVID-19, including 100 per cent testing of all guests and crew.

“These measures are among the most comprehensive of any industry worldwide and are already working successfully in several countries overseas.

“Now is the time for governments in Australia and New Zealand to progress a phased and tightly controlled resumption of local cruising, operating initially for locals-only within domestic boundaries or within the trans-Tasman bubble.”

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said the announcement of a quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble was a “step in the right direction” for the beleaguered Australian tourism industry.

“With a new quarantine-free environment of both sides of the Tasman for travellers, we will finally see the struggling hotel, hospitality, tourism and visitor economies of both nations benefit,” he said.

“The opening of NZ will also allow us to begin to fine-tune our international arrival and departure systems once again in preparation for the rest of the world, once worldwide and Australian vaccinations are successfully rolled out.

“Australians have been starved of international travel for more than a year now, so I’m sure many of us will be heading across the ditch to sample the delights of New Zealand – especially the ski fields as colder months approach.

“Our Kiwi cousins also enjoy the relative warmth of our Aussie winters, so we can expect an influx to hard-hit tourism spots like Cairns, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.

“This is a piece of good news for a tourism and accommodation sector which has had very little to smile about for more than 12 months, especially with many worried about the economic impact of the end of JobKeeper.”

Dean Long, CEO of the Accommodation Association, said that while the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble was a very welcome step in the right direction, there will be very little benefit for Australia’s tourism sector in the short term.

“With the end of JobKeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow-on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them, is negligible,” he said.

“There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence, but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector, but not so good for tourism.”

Wholesalers

Intrepid Travel has seen the number of enquiries for trips to New Zealand rise 56 per cent increase compared to February, and the company expects the trans-Tasman bubble announcement to trigger a huge spike in New Zealand bookings.

Sarah Clark, managing director of Intrepid’s Asia-Pacific operations, said that the company has seen plenty of pent-up demand from Aussies for international travel, with many avoiding city-only breaks and instead opting for itineraries that explore all corners of New Zealand.

Gai Tyrrell, managing director for Australasia at Globus family of brands (GFOB), said the commencement of the two-way trans-Tasman bubble signifies the restart of travel on an international scale.

“We’re so excited with the news of the trans-Tasman bubble kicking off on 19 April,” said she said. “So many have no doubt missed family and friends on both sides of the Tasman and are now able to reunite.

“Also, this travel corridor means Aussies can now experience our New Zealand itineraries that were launched in October last year.

“We developed these new trips specifically with Aussies and Kiwis in mind, and worked with new suppliers to curate itineraries that visit a range of towns and cities to ensure there’s plenty of diverse experiences suited to all types of travellers.”

For all 2021 bookings made before 26 April, GFOB is also offering five per cent off Globus’ Australia and New Zealand itineraries.

Trafalgar is inviting Australians to celebrate the news of the trans-Tasman travel bubble opening with a trip to New Zealand, offering up to 15 per cent off select departure dates.

“Due to the devastating effect the pandemic has had on our tourism industry, we couldn’t be more excited to get Australians over to our neighbours across the pond and to reignite their love for international travel again,” said Katrina Barry, managing director of Trafalgar.

AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys have welcomed the news by offering up to $600 off per couple on select NZ ‘Guided Holidays’.

“Our ‘Hello from Here’ celebration invites people to re-connect and say g’day and kia ora to our neighbours, while experiencing  the fantastic wilderness, food, wine and immersive cultural experiences that Australia and New Zealand have to offer,” said AAT Kings Group CEO Matt Fuller.


Featured image source: iStock/Tetiana Lazunova

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