Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the upcoming re-opening in two weeks as an "important first step", while travel agents and airlines along with their investors have responded enthusiastically, albeit cautiously in the case of Virgin Australia. Meanwhile, Accommodation Australia has thrown a wet blanket on the news, seeing 'very little benefit' for a struggling tourism sector.
Australians will be free to travel to New Zealand without having to self-quarantine from 19 April, after our neighbour's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the terms for a two-way, Trans-Tasman travel bubble today.
The Trans-Tasman travel bubble will come into effect from 11.59pm NZT on 18 April, giving loved ones across the pond the opportunity to finally reconnect from the 19th.
"The Director General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand to now be low, and that quarantine-free travel would be safe to commence," Ardern said.
"Cabinet accepts that advice, and is confident not only in the status of Australia but also in our ability to manage the travel arrangements."
However, travel between the two countries will not be like it was pre-COVID. The guidance is for a "flyer beware" approach; if an outbreak is detected in certain part of Australia, travellers who have been to the affected area will not be compensated for any quarantine needed.
"People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak," Ardern said.
"To help people plan ahead, and make decisions around their travel, we want to share as much information as we can about our decision making."
Travellers to NZ will be booking on "green zone" flights, further reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from Australia.
"When those in Australia currently make the welcome decision to come to New Zealand, they'll be making a booking on what is called a green zone flight - that means there will be no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the last 14 days," Ardern said.
"They will also be flown by crew who have not flown on any high-risk routes for a set period of time.
"Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand. They won't be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms. When they fly they will be required to wear a mask on the flight and will also be asked to download a NZ COVID Tracer app."
In addition, new airport protocol will be enforced, ensuring flights with returning overseas travellers from other countries do not overlap with those travelling within the bubble.
"On arrival passengers will be taken through what we call the green zones, meaning there'll be no contact with those who are arriving from other parts of the world and going into isolation or quarantine facilities," the NZ PM said.
"We'll also be undertaking random temperature checks of those arriving as an extra precaution; all of that alongside of course the usual welcome that we like to give all those who are either our guests or are returning to Aotearoa-New Zealand."
Officials in NZ will be working closely with their Australian counterparts to monitor any potential outbreaks, and information will be provided to travellers about the status of the border.
New Zealand authorities will be taking a similar approach to managing outbreaks in Australia as for regions in their own country.
For example, if an outbreak of COVID-19 were detected in Adelaide after the bubble comes into effect, travellers from other states and territories would not be impacted, but flights from South Australia in that scenario would likely be temporarialy paused.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Queensland has not put a dampener on the announcement either, with the New Zealand cabinet confident that outbreak is contained.
"Cabinet believes any residual risk can be managed," Ardern said.
"The Director General of Health will also give final confirmation of any conditions of travel that may affect Queensland by next Wednesday."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described today's announcement as an important first step.
"This is the first of many more steps I believe as we get back to a more normal position, not only over the course of this year, but beyond," he said.
"Australia and New Zealand have led the way when it comes to managing COVID. We have ensured that both our countries, despite dealing with the virus, have not suffered the same types of virus impacts that we've seen in so many other countries around the world.
"I very much appreciate the arrangement that the New Zealand government has come to today and we welcome them back, as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies, and all in time for ANZAC Day too which is tremendous."
Prime Minister Morrison highlighted the Trans-Tasman route was one of Australia's busiest in terms of volume.
"That means more planes in the air, it means more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines, it means further support for our travel agents who book many of the first of the international that we will see for Australians."
The effects have already been felt on the country's travel agents and airlines. Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) and Webjet (ASX: WEB) have seen their shares rise by 4.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, Qantas shares have risen by more than 3 per cent.
Qantas and Jetstar to run 122 NZ return flights per week, Virgin hesitates
Qantas (ASX: QAN) and its subsidiary Jetstar will restart flying to NZ when the bubble opens later this month, but complex border requirements have seen Virgin Australia delay most of its trans-Tasman services until 31 October.
Australian airline Qantas has encouraged Aussies to pack their jandals and hop on one of 122 return flights operating every week across the Tasman.
The national carrier will also launch two new routes direct from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast, bringing the total number of weekly seats on flights between the two nations to 52,000.
"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," Qantas domestic and international CEO Andrew David 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."
Qantas' enthusiasm is not shared by rival Virgin Australia, with the now-private airline hesitating on relaunching its services between Australia and New Zealand.
According to a company spokesperson, the evolving border requirements add complexity to Virgin's business.
As such, the airline is suspending 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.
"The New Zealand 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," the Virgin spokesperson said.
"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."
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand (ASX: AIZ) CEO Greg Foran has welcomed PM Ardern's announcement.
"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," Foran said.
Air New Zealand trans-Tasman flights are now on sale - a move that has been welcomed by AIZ shareholders, with stocks up 7.28 per cent to $1.70 per share at 3.31pm AEDT.
Travel bubble no silver bullet for tourism, but still welcome
Scott Morrison explained Australian tourism had benefitted from opening its borders to New Zealand travellers, and today's news would help that further as Kiwis could visit Australia without needing to quarantine when they return home.
However, the Accommodation Association has issued a statement claiming there will be very little real benefit for Australia's tourism sector in the short term.
The peak body claims tailored support is still desperately needed for Sydney and Melbourne CBD properties which rely so heavily on international and corporate markets.
"The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it's good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there's very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels," Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said.
"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.
"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."
Long said NZ would have a net positive gain from an open border with Australia.
"Australians represent over 50 per cent of all visitors to NZ and we spend nearly $1700 per trip with the majority on their ski fields," he said.
"Total spend prior to COVID was $2.5 billion with 1.5 million Aussies visiting as at year end December 2019. Kiwis spend around $1,800 per trip with 1.2 million visitors to Australia, with total spend of $2.1 billion."
The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) was much more optimistic in its response, stating the bubble would help re-establish some of Australia's long term travel relationships, marking the first step in reopening our export tourism industry to international visitors.
"Our industry will be very happy to hear that a travel bubble has been agreed between the Australian and New Zealand governments which will see one of our most significant markets back online," ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.
"Australian tourism businesses, like those across the world, have suffered severely with the closure of international borders and this marks an initial step towards re-establishing our $45 billion annual export industry.
"Thousands of tourism businesses across the country have suffered a severe drop in their income with the closure of international borders and many are simply holding on for announcements like this."
A recent ATEC survey of the export industry showed Australian inbound tour operators (ITOs) were suffering the most under the international border closures with 80 per cent operating with less than 10 per cent of their pre-COVID revenue.
"While our tourism product supplier members are doing their best to turn to the domestic market and are working hard to make ends meet, ITOs are only staying afloat with the help of the Federal Government's travel agent grants program now that the JobKeeper subsidy has ended," Shelley said.
"Without the re-opening of borders or the certainty provided by ongoing government support, a large number of ITOs will be out of business within months, taking with them a significant pipeline of forward bookings made by international travellers and millions of dollars in revenue.
"ITOs are the businesses which sell Australian tourism product across the world and while they are small in number, they deliver a huge amount of business across the country, especially to regional areas which have developed strong destination appeal for international visitors.
"The reopening of international borders will be wholeheartedly welcomed across the industry and particularly by those businesses whose entire future rests on international visitation."
Queensland Airports welcomes Trans-Tasman bubble
Queensland Airports CEO Chris Mills has welcomed the news, with the Gold Coast Airport to host trans-Tasman services.
Flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand have already gone on sale, with an average of four flights per day from 19 April to take off.
"We have been working closely with our airline and travel industry partners and government throughout this crisis to ensure we would be ready to facilitate flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand at the earliest opportunity," Mills said.
"Pre-COVID-19, this was our largest international market, with about 520,000 passengers flying between Gold Coast and New Zealand annually.
"The Gold Coast is one of the first destinations Kiwis want to come and visit. These services are sure to be busy in both directions, with 60,000 Kiwis calling the Gold Coast home."
Shares in listed airports are also rising this afternoon, with Sydney Airport (ASX: SYD) up 3.14 per cent to $5.26 per share, and Auckland International Airport (ASX: AIA) up 1.2 per cent to $7.16 per share.
Updated at 3.18pm AEST on 6 April 2021.
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