Trans-Tasman travel bubble failed to inflate

While strong domestic tourism figures in Australia and New Zealand show that holidaymakers are keen to take a break in troubled times, the data also shows that many remain wary of using the travel bubble.

Quarantine-free travel bubbles were hailed as tourism’s godsend earlier this year, but cancellations and suspensions have meant they’ve failed to inflate as hoped.

Since the trans-Tasman travel bubble opened on 19 April, New Zealand has ordered partial shutdowns on four occasions due to virus scares in Australian states.

And it seems tourists aren’t as ready to take the plunge and book a trip as first thought. Being stranded overseas or ordered into hotel quarantine on their return have become real risks that tourists must consider.

Read more: Pilots back trans-Tasman bubble

Data by Stats NZ show New Zealand welcomed 30,936 arrivals in the first nine days of the bubble, with 20,796 departures over the same period.

While a small number of people travelling to and from other countries are also included in these figures, the majority were those travelling quarantine-free between New Zealand and Australia.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the volume was promising but a long way below normal traffic movement. “Over the same nine days in 2019, there were 177,000 arrivals into New Zealand and 191,000 departures,” says Mr Roberts.

But while the figures may paint New Zealand as the winner out of the quarantine-free travel arrangement, some in the tourism sector say they are yet to see much benefit from the influx of Australian visitors.

Like tourist centres everywhere, Queenstown, the so-called “adrenaline capital of the world” has struggled without overseas travellers. Queenstown restaurant owner Martin James described the bubble as a “slow burn” so far but said operators were optimistic about future bookings as ski season ramped up.

Read more: Eat, stay, love: Queenstown

However, he warned many businesses were struggling to find workers while strict pandemic border restrictions, similar to Australia’s, remained in place.

“It’s sort of a post-COVID blues really,” says Mr James. “80 per cent of our workforce was basically [people on] work visas, people travelling, holiday visas. We had shortages down here in Queenstown before COVID and now it’s going to be times 10.”

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes said the shortage was limiting the way businesses could operate.

Read more: Trans-Tasman travel bubble: What should the tourism industry expect?

“It means hotels can only open somewhere between 60 and 75 per cent of their rooms for bookings, it means businesses are really looking at what services they provide, the hours they’re opening,” says Ms Stokes.

“We have hotel GMs [general managers] making beds and serving breakfast, it’s all hands on deck.”

Ms Stokes said businesses were urging the New Zealand government to relax some immigration rules – and she had a message for any Australians open to finding work across the Tasman.

“We would love to have Australians here,” she adds. “And we’re also looking at what we can do in terms of supporting people into accommodation and with living costs, so it’s really looking at what the wraparound package is.”

Have you taken advantage of the trans-Tasman travel bubble? What’s stopping you?

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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