What The Trans-Tasman Bubble Could Mean For You

What is a travel bubble?

To restart international travel in a safe controlled manner, governments are looking to create ‘travel bubbles’. Travel Bubbles are agreements between two or more governments allowing people to move between areas of low, or no Coronavirus transmission without the need of a full 14 day quarantine period.

Countries like Australia & New Zealand are very cautious about the movement of people across international borders, in fear COVID-19 will spread widely again. The hypothetical ‘bubble’ is an agreement to lift travel restrictions between those countries.

If a third country wanted to enter an agreement with either country, then both Australia and New Zealand would need to agree to expand the bubble to include the other country. Over time more countries could join a growing bubble until the risk of the pandemic passes.

There are examples of this already happening domestically in Australia, with the clearest example being Queensland and South Australia; residents of these states can move freely over their state lines with minimal disruption while excluding residents from other states entering.

What is the Trans-Tasman travel bubble?

Australia and New Zealand are very keen to resume some sort of travel between the two nations again as soon as it’s safe to do so. The Prime Ministers have both expressed interest in allowing travel between COVID-19 safe regions by as early as Christmas.

If this sounds familiar to you, it is. Serious negotiations stalled earlier this year as Victoria’s second wave took hold of the state.

Under the current proposal, we could see travel between areas of low Coronavirus transmission, for example Sydney to Christchurch, allowing both Australians and Kiwis to enter each others countries without undergoing mandatory quarantine. This would be a huge development for Australia, as this could free up places in the hotel quarantine system by up to 15%, allowing many more Australians from the rest of the world to return home.

Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble Airlines
Prior to the pandemic, there were many routes between Australia & New Zealand (above). Under a travel-bubble, there will be carefully selected routes likely based off low local COVID-19 transmission rates

If this goes ahead, how can I get to NZ?

Expect airlines, especially Qantas & Air New Zealand to jump at the opportunity to open routes across the Tasman again. We’ve already seen multiple examples in Australia where airlines have added capacity on highly sought after routes following relaxations of state borders.

We can expect flights to be cheap, really cheap. Airlines will be keen to chase your dollars to get you sitting in their seat. When searching some random dates for future travel next year, airlines are already offering seats lower than AUD$250 each way. When the time comes, keep in mind there are a few things to consider to buying the best value for money airfares.

Aus to NZ airfares
Looking at random future dates already show reasonably cheap flight options between Australia & New Zealand.

As it stands, there are no definitive routes that airlines will be allowed to fly and the timeline on quarantine free travel is still a speculative game. Don’t make any formal plans or circle any dates in the calendar until the governments release a formal policy!

Why would anyone travel to NZ?

I’ve been fortunate enough to venture to New Zealand twice, in 2010 and 2012; covering stops in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Taupo and Wellington. The landscapes and experiences are a world away from Australia with the only requirement (normally) being a short three hour flight.

The top of my New Zealand bucket list is the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. I’m itching just thinking about the opportunity to experience one of the world famous bungy jumps, hike some amazing trails and play some of the world’s most scenic golf courses.

Long story short

While the announcements by the Prime Ministers at the moment are somewhat speculative, it shows genuine interest from both sides of the Tasman that travel between the two countries is high on the agenda.

A Trans-Tasman bubble will help tourism operators who are desperate to start selling travel dreams again, help reunite families across ‘The Ditch’ & for people like you and me, will scratch that ever growing itch to whip out the passport and discover our next adventure.

Let me know in the comments below…!
Aussies, what is at the top of your New Zealand bucket list?
Kiwis, where in Australia are you most excited to explore once the borders open for tourists?

Feature photo of Auckland, New Zealand by Partha Narasimhan on Unsplash

Australia Relaxes Inbound Traveller Limits – Is Enough Being Done?

Friday’s meeting of the Australian National Cabinet agreed to increase the cap of Australians returning home from roughly 4,000 inbound travellers per week to a little under 6,000 per week, on a scaled increase.

What’s the current state of play?

The Australian hotel quarantine system is managed by each state & territory government. After the second wave of COVID-19 that ravaged Melbourne was linked to mismanagement in hotel quarantine, most other states expressed concerns that their own resources could not safely handle the amount of travellers returning.

As a result, each state & territory imposed limits on inbound traveller numbers and restricted arrivals to come through selected international airports:

Total number of arrivals per week: 3,975. It’s important to note there are some exemptions to quarantine requirements (such as airline crew), so the total number of actual passengers arriving into Australia on a weekly basis is likely higher than the quarantine cap.

The new plan from National Cabinet

In a phased approach, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland & Western Australia will increase the total amount of inbound arrivals to a total of just over 5,500 with further arrangements being made to increase this to be as high as 6,000.

New South Wales will take an additional 500 passengers per week, with South Australia accepting an additional 100 arrivals. This will be in place by 28 September.

Queensland & Western Australia are taking a two-tier approach with both states each accepting 200 additional weekly arrivals by 28 September, and raising this number to 500 in total increase by 05 October (QLD) and 12 October (WA).

To simplify this, let’s take a look at the updated table of what each state will be accepting when the new plan is fully operational:

Total number of arrivals per week: 5,575.
*Prior to the pandemic, Hobart Airport did not and to this day still doesn’t currently service any international commercial flights
^National Cabinet concluded that ‘facilitation of special commercial services‘ would be carried out in South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory & Australian Capital Territory; which will likely see this published number exceeded some weeks. There is no indication of what this may entail.

Why does this matter?

Sydney Morning Herald recently confirmed with DFAT that roughly 23,000 Australians have expressed interest in returning home. Unfortunately not all Australians were or are currently able to simply ‘pack everything up’ and return home immediately, with many having family, careers & other binding commitments with other countries. Clearly, continuing on the current cap of roughly 4,000 would take months and into 2021 to allow all Australians to return home.

However for Australians trying to return immediately the situation is even more complicated. The current passenger limit has seen airlines having to severely reduce passenger capacity on all flights. To demonstrate the easiest example; an airline like Qatar Airways who operate a 14 hour flight from Doha to Sydney cannot make a profit from passenger services by carrying so few passengers, a requirement they must strictly follow to not exceed the passenger cap. As a business they need to make these flights as commercially viable as possible, hence we hear stories of passengers needing to purchase business or first class tickets to increase their chances of being accepted on board.

The airline conundrum:
Maintain air links, or cut costs?

Don’t be too quick to criticise the airlines for prioritising business & first class passengers. An easy alternative for them is to conclude the Australian market is too difficult and too expensive to manage at the moment and abandon all services, leaving thousands more stranded overseas especially those in far away places like Europe, The Americas & Africa.

The routes in green show flights around 14 hours in length, the yellow around three hours. All of the above routes can only accept a similar number of passengers, making these green journeys far more expensive and loss-making for long haul carriers.

Airlines like Qatar Airways, Emirates & United Airlines, who have all continued to fly to Australia nearly uninterrupted, have used their extensive global networks to get passengers from far-flung places back to Australia via their hubs in the Middle East & North America. Despite flying passengers across the world, with the leg into Australia at over 14 hours, they can only carry the same amount of passengers as a plane coming from New Zealand or Papua New Guinea, only a couple of hours long and nowhere near the same costs to an airline.

New Zealand’s strength may have a role in easing Australian backlogs

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has floated the idea of allowing Australians & New Zealanders in COVID-free areas of New Zealand to enter Australia quarantine free, a lot like how some domestic Australia travel currently operates.

According to the Prime Minister in Friday’s press conference, approximately 15% of all international arrivals are currently from New Zealand. Under the increased cap, this would take about 836 places in hotel quarantine per week.

By removing the hotel quarantine for arrivals from COVID-free areas of New Zealand, such as the entirety of the South Island, this will free up more space for returning travellers from the rest of the world and therefore clear the backlog of Australians desperate to get home sooner.

Don’t get too excited if you’re reading this in Australia and wanting to brush off your passport – this is not the much hyped Trans-Tasman bubble which I’m sure you’ve all read about in the media. The current proposal is for one-way traffic to allow Australians & eligible Kiwis to enter Australia. The New Zealand government would be under no obligation to reciprocate these proposed changes and may continue their hard border stance to all countries including Australia for an indefinite period.

It’s reasonable to speculate that this model will be used as a dry run to open up bilateral arrangements with countries and regions with no community COVID transmission, to allow some international movement to recommence. An example of a similar agreement already in place is Singapore, where they recently opened ‘fast lanes’ for travellers to move between certain countries and specific regions. We’ll be watching these developments closely with a keen eye.

There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge for this proposal to get over the line. Western Australia & Tasmania still have hard borders for domestic Australian travellers, you cannot get into these states without special exemptions. Queensland continues to have controversial hard borders with New South Wales and Victoria, however on Friday announced plans to lift restrictions for travellers flying in from the ACT.

With so much in-fighting among the Australian states and territories, it’s currently difficult to imagine how Australian state premiers will permit international arrivals to land without a quarantine period anytime soon. But hey this is the ‘COVID era’, so anything is possible by this time next week!

A quick cheat sheet to the current interstate border restrictions for inbound domestic travellers. Some exemptions apply in all cases. Correct as of 20 September and likely to change every fifteen seconds.

The Northern Territory allow travellers from all jurisdictions to enter, however if you have been in a declared hotspot in the last 14 days you must complete a self-funded quarantine. Hotspots are defined by the NT government & can be declared for specific locations in other states and cities. If you’ve spent some time outside a hotspot then you can apply to have your quarantine reduced – I told you it’s complicated!

Long story short…

Australia’s positive move to allow more of its own citizens to return home is a welcome boost to many currently overseas trying to get home. The cautious border approach on the health front has cascading consequences resulting in extremely limited flight options and seats being sold at many times the standard airfare to make the airlines’ ends meet.

Let’s hope National Cabinet continue to provide out of the box, practical solutions to get our own citizens who want to return back on home soil while ensuring that hotel quarantine can be facilitated in a safe manner. The proposal of quarantine free arrivals from COVID-free areas of New Zealand is a fantastic start, however we need our state premiers to see eye-to-eye on domestic issues first before quarantine free travel can work on an international scale.

Let me know what you think! Should the National Cabinet be doing more to get Australians home? Do airlines have a moral responsibility to move people to where they need to be during a global crisis at a passenger friendly cost? Have your say below!

Feature photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash