The release of a tourism industry ‘Restart Timetable’ this week by a newly assembled Tourism Restart Taskforce has nudged the trans-Tasman travel bubble even further toward reality. The proposed timetable has plotted out several travel milestones to be reached as lockdown restrictions are eased over the remainder of this year, and international travel to New Zealand and the Pacific is listed to be possible very soon after domestic travel is restarted.
According to the taskforce, Australians could be travelling to New Zealand as early as July, and to other ‘safe’ destinations by 10 September. It is not yet determined which countries will make that ‘safe’ list, but industry speculation is pointing mainly to short-haul destinations. The timetable includes the Pacific region with New Zealand, meaning that Australians could possibly be holidaying in Fiji or Vanuatu by July; the Pacific region has generally reported a low incidence of Covid-19 cases throughout the pandemic period.
Domestic travel restrictions are already loosening intrastate from 1 June in most states (barring any ‘second wave’ eventualities), but further opening of borders between Australian states is essential for the trans-Tasman bubble idea to work. The release of the taskforce’s admittedly ‘aspirational’ timeline has increased governmental focus on speeding this process.
As part of the proposal, the first international flight has been floated for 1 July, to fly between Canberra and Wellington, carrying officials and media. John Hart, the Chair of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, added that this is not a standard route at the moment, but that there may well be a need for airlines to rethink their route maps depending on which destinations are officially safe for travel.
“We have done a lot of discussion with the NZ side and they are saying we are good to go,” he said, adding that there would be no need for mandatory quarantine on either leg of the trip. No airline has yet been named as the carrier for this first flight.
Meanwhile, a Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group made up of experts from airlines, airports and government agencies, has likewise been working on a plan to open up borders between Australia and New Zealand. It plans to present its own proposal to the two countries’ governments as soon as next week, following this week’s formal agreement between prime ministers Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern to pursue the trans-Tasman travel bubble as soon as it is safe to do so.
“We are working to move on this as quickly as we can,” said Ardern. “It won’t be too long before we are ready.”
Morrison added, “When we are seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns – at about that time I would expect, everything being equal – we would be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland or Christchurch or things like that.”
Regarding the Pacific region, the prime ministers’ joint statement suggested travel to this area was likely to happen only after the ‘bubble’ was established between our two countries, saying, “Once we have established effective travel arrangements across the Tasman, we will also explore opportunities to expand the concept to members of our broader Pacific family, enabling travel between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries”.