Brent Thomas Brent Thomas

Industry reacts to plans and dates for border re-opening

Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) president Brent Thomas says that with surety around dates for non-quarantine travel in 2022 the trade has a definite light at the end of the tunnel. 'Agents need to start engaging with customers and start booking their travel arrangements now.'

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced today that from 17 January, fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to travel from Australia without having to got through MIQ. From 13 February this will apply to fully vaccinated Kiwis from other countries and from the end of April, all other fully vaccinated travellers can come into New Zealand without managed quarantine.

Thomas says the announcement is a 'mixed bag' and he believes there will be widespread disappointment and even some anger that Kiwis can not get back without MIQ for Christmas. 'This is particularly true of Australia. Considering we have got beyond 80% double jabbed and more than 90% with at least one dose and (parts of) Australia even better than that, I do think the government has missed an opportunity.'

He also points out that there is little relief for the inbound sector because no-one is wanting to start a holiday with seven days of isolation. 'That will impact on our air capacity moving forward and affect the whole country – not only travel but also cargo capacity.'

Thomas says agents need to take into account that the dates given are for returning travellers. 'There will be people who will want to start travelling before then, both for leisure and business.'

David Coombes, managing director of Flight Centre Travel Group NZ welcomes the clarity provided to the travel industry. 'After 20 long months we will be taking a moment to celebrate and don't we deserve it. This is a huge day for our customers and our industry.'

However, he says the celebration is tinged with a strong sense that the announcement hasn't gone far enough. 'We do question why this action needs to wait until 2022, given the desperation of many families to re-unite with their loved ones ahead of Christmas. We also believe a seven-day isolation seems excessive if vaccination requirements and Covid-19 testing are being used at every stage of a traveller's journey, which is more rigorous than domestic requirements.'

Scott Cleaver, general manager The Travel Corporation (NZ), says the company is encouraged that the government has finally offered specifics. 'This certainty is what the consumer needs to be able to commit. We are seeing overseas markets really gear up and we are looking forward to working with the agent community to provide seamless and safe choices for Kiwi clients to be able to travel again.'

Joe O'Sullivan, of Cruise World and chair of the New Zealand Outbound Travel Suppliers Association, says this announcement will be great for agents. 'The big issue now is having the resources to manage it. We have prepared for it by keeping most of our team so (we're) all ready to go.

He says the latest news should add to the positive trend for bookings Cruise World has already seen. 'So far there has been good growth in bookings in the higher end as well as expedition and adventure products. The fact that we now have dates to work with that give travellers confidence should mean a significant increase in interest and potentially a closer-in booking profile than we are seeing at the moment. I am looking forward to seeing our tough and resilient industry start to move again.'

Corey Marshall of Canuckiwi, which represents a number of North American destinations, says the company has seen how quickly the outbound VFR market has rebounded as well as the interest in Northern Hemisphere winter vacations out of New South Wales and Victoria with their opening this month.

"This will allow outbound travel businesses to finally be able to get back to planning outbound Kiwi vacations. We do feel, however, for so many inbound travel businesses and operators who, with this schedule, will still miss out from highly vaccinated markets over their peak travel season based on this extremely cautious approach.'

Brendan Drury, managing director of Orbit Auckland, says corporates will be quickly changing their travel policies to include this new travelling environment and many will be happy to see self isolation prevail instead of MIQ in the short term. 'Corporates we are speaking with regularly are ready to get back to the world and have their bags packed and ready.'

Robyn Galloway, managing director of Innovative Travel, says it is great for the outbound travel industry, suppliers and agents to finally receive positive news. 'The pressure on our supply chain has become critical. Getting Kiwi passengers back into international travel will help expand airline capacity. Since the Australian border opened up, enquiries for 2022 had started to increase. It is time to start rebuilding our sector and to finally look forwards, instead of backwards.'

Tourism Fiji NZ regional director Sonya Lawson says fully vaccinated Kiwis will be able to book and travel in confidence, knowing that Fiji is ready and waiting to welcome them back with its Care Fiji Commitment. 'With the flurry of bookings we saw from keen Australians wanting their first tropical holiday in almost two years, we expect to see the same trends emerge in New Zealand.'

Tourism Export Council (TEC) NZ chief executive Lynda Keene, says the organisation had hoped Australian visitors could return to New Zealand in Q1 of 2022 without MIQ or self isolation. 'But we are happy that the return date for international travellers is from 30 April 2022. We can work with that.

'What we can't work with is that international visitors have to undergo a form of self-isolation. This is nonsense. If the government pursues a self-isolation mandate for international visitors, NZ will simply not have an international recovery of any kind. It would destroy New Zealand's world class tourism industry and its global reputation, along with hundreds of tourism businesses.'