Trans-Tasman bubble: Bookings drying up 'really quickly' after mad rush as COVID-19 concerns linger

The CEO of Auckland Airport has revealed trans-Tasman bubble bookings have dried up as travellers remain wary of being caught up in new COVID-19 outbreaks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the long-awaited bubble earlier this month, which is set to commence on Monday, April 19.

Travellers from Australia will be able to bypass the two weeks in an MIQ facility, which is mandatory for all other international travellers, and won't have to quarantine on the way back.

Accommodation Association CEO Julie White told The AM Show it was great to have the bubble open after a year of travel restrictions, but said many potential travellers are still wary about making the trip.

"When the announcement [came out], we had a rush of bookings into New Zealand. However, it dried up really quickly - within a week the bookings stopped. We are also hearing from both sides that flight schedules are starting to be reduced in May...

"Opening the border is excellent but it's not going to be the silver bullet, so the Government still needs to manage the health crisis and economic crisis. We are already seeing upward prices from supply chains, so that's an early indicator of inflationary pressures, so we need to keep an eye on the economy as well as get trying to get more Australians over to New Zealand."

She said many Australians were taking a "wait and see" approach to see if the bubble would work before booking their own trips.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood agreed.

"[It's] hugely exciting," he told The AM Show. "It's been a year of grind, really hard yards and a lot of people's livelihoods depend on the airport around south Auckland and New Zealand frankly, so we are really excited by it...

"But we always anticipated there would be a bit of a bounce with visiting friends and relatives and people coming back and then it would take a bit of time to normalise - like it did post the level 4 lockdown with domestic travel. 

"We do think it will take a little bit of time to build confidence that it's going to stay open and then they will book their trips. I'm hoping by the July school holidays everything will settle and then people will start to book."

He confirmed Qantas had reduced their trans-Tasman schedule as bookings waned but said Air New Zealand had taken a more cautious approach, putting on limited flights with the intention of scaling up if the demand was there.

"Qantas started with a hiss and a roar and just clocking it back a little bit. But I think give it a month or few weeks and we will find out what the new underlying demand looks like."

The first week of the bubble

Littlewood told The AM Show the airport was expecting "tens of thousands of people" would come to New Zealand in the first few days of the bubble - "about ten times the flights we had last week, which is fantastic and a great start". 

He said the airport is "totally ready" for the influx of travellers, and some of the airport shops - including duty-free - would be open next week too.

"We have been [ready] for some time. We split the international airport into two sections - one for red zone flights and our green zone quarantine free flights. For those going trans-Tasman, it will be as close to normal as it was before although there will be some new requirements like pre-travel declarations."

However, he did ask travellers to be patient as there may be delays as they get used to the new processes.

"I think it will be okay, but I think it will be a bit bouncy in the first little while... I recommend people just take a little extra time, get out there and get ready for their trip with a little extra time."