23 Mar 2021

Trans-Tasman travel complex but essential - Aus tourism leader

From Checkpoint, 5:49 pm on 23 March 2021

Trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel is essential, even if it might be complicated, the Australian Tourism Industry council says.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that details of a travel deal will be revealed on April 6.

"We've got to get a two-way bubble up," the council's executive director Simon Westaway told Checkpoint.

"We're close to doing it. We've had a one-way bubble between New Zealand into Australia since mid-October."

Apart from the two brief hiatuses when there were Covid-19 community outbreaks, he said, movement has been essentially free for people flying from New Zealand to Australia.

"We want New Zealand to treat Australia as a continent, and we don't want it to be selective because that will really disadvantage the bubble. And it won't really deliver the benefits or start that long road back that we're looking for.

"The federal government of Australia… have responsibility for the national border, so anything around international travel is a federal government, Australian government decision."

However, the states do have rights to put in place their own internal border arrangements, he said.

Over the past year that has involved different approaches, with some states having a hard border for various periods of time.

"In other cases it's been a requirement for people that are travelling in and out of a state to either have a permit or possibly to have a test… or self-quarantine.

"It is complicated to the naked eye. In fact, we've had something upwards of 200 different internal border arrangements over the past year with some various nuances between states and territories," Westaway said.

"What I can assure the New Zealand travelling public is that we're a clean book at the moment. Across Australia, in essence, you can travel seamlessly inside our country. You can go from New South Wales to Queensland to Victoria and so forth.

"I believe Western Australia have a couple of very minor changes to that, so in essence we are a free and open country.

"Particularly along the east coast of Australia, which is the closest point to New Zealand by air or by sea, you've got a clean bill of health."

The rapid changes that have come with Covid-19 community outbreaks has been frustrating for the travel sector, Westaway said.

"Water has passed under the bridge along the way now. Because we have such low levels of community transmission of Covid-19 and many would argue in essence we don't currently have community transmission of the virus, which is why we have open internal borders. But we've very much got over the hump of this."

He said he thinks Australians want the travel bubble. "I've seen some recent data that shows that around about 50 percent of Australians are really prepared to get up and travel, not just inter-state but to consider an international visit.

"The biggest handbrake for travel, and it's coming through survey after survey… is actually the fear of traveling across the border and then having the jurisdiction make a change.

"It's actually not a fear of the virus, it's actually a fear of being trapped or being restricted once you get there, and you've got no recourse."

He said that is why there has been quite a sluggish return of the domestic tourism industry in Australia, which makes about 70 percent of the market.

"That saying, I really think both Australia and New Zealand governments have a great opportunity here/ They've been talking travel bubbles for the best part of nine months. Let's have a reality check, we have no community transmission in essence on both sides… there's enough of a health layer between countries.

"Let's find the way and means, and try to get the two-way bubble moving."