Business community wants quick decision on trans-Tasman bubble

"I would 100 percent love the idea to be able to travel."
"I would 100 percent love the idea to be able to travel." Photo credit: RNZ / Liu Chen.

By Liu Chen of RNZ

Tourism firms and business groups want the Government to get on and rubber stamp a travel bubble with Australia.

RNZ understands the plan is to have a safe travel zone in place between Australia and New Zealand in place by the end of April. When challenged on that date, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden refused to confirm or deny it, only going as far as to say that the bubble would be established "soon".

On Auckland's Queen St, Vincent Beck said the bubble will help the economy and give people more freedom and normality.

"I love it. I'd say sign me up, probably should have had a little bit sooner, but better late than never...Who doesn't want to go travel? I'd love to go to the beach again in Australia,"

Another woman Stephanie agreed.

"I would 100 percent love the idea to be able to travel, go visit people, family, friends... At some point we're going to need to move on from this Covid. I think it's time now."

Benny Li owns two souvenir stores on Auckland's Queen Street. Having running the business for 25 years, he said he had never seen anything worse than the effect of Covid-19. The border closure meant he was closing one store in two weeks' time.

"We pay most expensive rental in New Zealand and we have zero international tourists... We wish to open up [the border], especially for the trans-Tasman bubble as soon as possible. I wish to be tomorrow," he said.

Sunny Chung, who works at another souvenir shop, also hoped the proposal could be put into effect shortly.

"We're desperate for a long, long time, especially in Queen Street. There is just no people here, so we're definitely looking for some tourists. We're a souvenir shop - who wants souvenirs if you live here?"

Chief executive of the Wayfare group of tourism and ski companies, Stephen England-Hall, said the prospect of Australian visitors was exciting. He said Australia was New Zealand's largest source of international travellers and a travel bubble could let some businesses at least double their revenue.

"One of the key advantages of getting a bubble working with Australia is an economic one, but actually, perhaps more importantly, is reconnecting New Zealanders with their friends and family in Australia, many of whom haven't seen each other since the whole Covid crisis began.

"So we must remember there is a real social and mental health and wellbeing outcome of getting reconnected with our brothers and sisters across the Tasman," he said.

He said the sooner a decision is made, the better firms can prepare.

"From an industry perspective, which has been largely under the water for 12 months, there's issues like staffing and making sure that you've got sufficient supply side capacity to meet any new demand."

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said 1.5 million people traveled from Australia to New Zealand each year, including holidaymakers, those who visit family and friends and for work and study, and those visitors spent nearly $2.7 billion in the year to September 2019.

He said opening the border to Australia will give tourism and hospitality the greatest hope for survival in the next couple of years but warned it would not all be economically positive.

"The other side of the coin says that will some of those New Zealanders who would have travelled internally, will they take their business and take it to Australia?

"So there's a positive side and the possibility of a negative side of the border opening," he said.

"This is an opportunity for us to use all of the things that we've learned over the last 12 months to start a pilot with Australia and see if we can manage the movement of people between two borders and if we can do that, then we can look wider.

"All of those steps are an important part of getting back to normal."

Currently, Australia has allowed quarantine-free flights from New Zealand but Australians cannot travel to New Zealand without an exemption.