7 Apr 2021

Australians quick to book Queenstown accommodation ahead of trans-Tasman bubble

9:43 am on 7 April 2021

South Island businesses are rejoicing over news the trans-Tasman bubble will soon be opening.

Generic still of Queenstown and surrounding area

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

It came as welcome relief for tourism operators with quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel set to come into effect on 19 April.

It has been an agonising wait for many business owners like Rob Jewell of Fox Glacier Guiding, who rely heavily on tourists to take adventure tours on the ice.

He could not be more joyful to welcome Australians with open arms.

"Now is just a good a time as any. We'll take it. Happy we have finally got a date and can plan - I just cant wait."

Queenstown, Franz Joseph, Fox Glacier and small towns within the South Island have been hit particularly hard due to lack of tourists.

But now, the trans-Tasman bubble changes everything.

Already, accommodation providers have experienced a flurry of bookings for Australians to stay in Queenstown, with many hotels telling RNZ their rooms were close to booked, during the first week the bubble opened.

Meanwhile, the announcement came just in time for the winter ski season which was typically a drawcard for many Australian visitors, with 53 percent flying direct to the South Island pre-Covid-19.

"We are absolutely thrilled. About 40 percent of visitors to Queenstown ski fields are Australian. They breathe a lot of life into downtown Queenstown and use a lot of attractions," NZSKI chief executive Paul Anderson said.

He was still in need of 200-300 staff for the 2021 ski season and planned to recruit Australians to fill the gap in time for the flurry.

Prior to Covid-19, 30 percent of all passenger arrivals and departures at Queenstown Airport were on trans-Tasman flights.

Australia was Aotearoa's largest international visitor market, accounting for almost half of all overseas arrivals, spending $2.7 billion.

It had been challenging without international guests, Fiordland Jet Co Owner Chris Adams said.

"For the last couple of weekends Kiwis have been visiting Te Anau but we are really looking forward to the Aussie's coming over and spending their money with us as well."

But buyer beware - when the bubble opens, travel could come to a halt and visitors on this side of the ditch could be left stranded.

That's a concern for Queenstown iFly Owner Matt Wong who said, Aussies would take a cautious approach and be part of the the first group of travellers who would "test the waters" and "likely be people visiting friends and family".

"If you get stuck it is a bit of a take the risk. But as we see a softer market over the next two months, hopefully by July - school holidays we are gonna see a big influx, especially for that ski season."

For many businesses this had been a long and difficult wait, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said.

"There's no doubt strict border management from a year ago was the right thing to do from a public health perspective, so it is time now to also focus on our country's economic health and protecting the livelihoods of our community."

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