COVID-19: Trans-Tasman travel pause an 'epic blow' for NZ tourism sector ahead of Australian school holidays

The tourism sector is reeling after the Government announced a pause on all quarantine-free travel from Australia on Saturday night.

It's come just as Australian school holidays are set to begin, with Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult calling the announcement an "epic blow" for the region's tourism industry.

"The ski season's coming and we need those Australians," Boult told Newshub.

He said despite the move being "disappointing", he wasn't surprised by the announcement - given the worsening situation in Australia and the recent scare of a tourist with COVID-19 visiting Wellington.

"I think the Government have got to exercise caution on this. It's disappointing but there's no point in blaming anybody - we are where we are.

"But it's an epic blow for us with the ski season upon us."

He said even before Saturday's announcement about the pause in trans-Tasman travel he had heard reports of a spike in cancellations from Australian tourists.

Although he's expecting that number to rise further, he remained optimistic Kiwis would still visit the region during the school holidays here.

"I'm sure there will be quite a few cancellations...[it's] really unfortunate it comes at the time of the Australian school holidays," he said.

"We're really hanging out for a strong July because the first two weeks are, of course, Australian school holidays, the second two weeks our holidays. It will be disappointing if we don't get the Australians, but yes the fallback is certainly let's hope we get plenty of Kiwis who want to ski.

"We're crossing our fingers."

In announcing the temporary suspension of all quarantine-free travel from Australia, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the pause would allow the Government "to get a better understanding of the developing situation and to consider the potential implementation of a range of measures to make the bubble safer, such as the introduction of pre-departure testing for all flights from Australia to New Zealand".

The pause came into effect at 10:30pm on Saturday and will remain in place until 11:59pm on Tuesday.

It follows a temporary pause on travel with New South Wales, which was put in place last week and is set to last until at least July 6.

Brent Thomas, president of the Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand (TAANZ), said the announcement was a "massive disruption" for Kiwis planning on travelling across the ditch.

"It certainly is a surprise," he told Newshub.

"We've got the school holidays only a week away and we'll have a number of New Zealanders who are planning to get over there."

He said travel agents were now working hard to help their clients work through the situation. 

The Government will give an update on COVID-19 cases here, as well as announce whether restrictions in Wellington will be lifted or extended, later on Sunday.