Why travel to New Zealand is still a hassle

Reducing door-to-door travel time between Australia and New Zealand could help boost tourists numbers across the Tasman.
Reducing door-to-door travel time between Australia and New Zealand could help boost tourists numbers across the Tasman. Photo: Bloomberg

It's been crying out for action for at least two decades. At various times, politicians have staked their reputations on such a campaign, but the border barrier between Australia and New Zealand, long dreamed of as a hassle-free three-hour domestic trip the same distance as Melbourne or Sydney to Cairns, remains a bureaucratic obstacle course.

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were the latest Australian prime ministers to nail their colours to the mast, but the promise of a domestic trans-Tasman connection remains torpedoed by unseen vested interests apparently determined to ensure it doesn't happen.

The tourism industry's main Australian lobby group, the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF), is the latest to call on the Australian government to get cracking with reforms in a campaign launched last week with a report titled "Bringing Our Neighbour Closer".

Even though New Zealand is Australia's biggest source of international visitors as well as the busiest foreign destination for Australians heading overseas, it's been moribund in recent years while other markets like the USA surges ahead.

The TTF is urging Canberra to slash the punitive $55 international travel tax to $25 for trans-Tasman routes and streamline passenger processing to cut the door-to-door travel time between Australia and New Zealand to no more than five hours.

"New Zealand is our number one international source market, but we could see even more New Zealanders visit Australia by making it quicker, easier and cheaper and by opening up new points of entry," says the TTF's acting chief executive Trent Zimmerman.

"The growth in arrivals from New Zealand has been relatively flat for some time, with holiday visitors actually declining last year. It's a market we have tended to take for granted and one that needs more attention.

"The people of no two nations are closer than Australia and New Zealand, yet that friendship is being stifled by slow progress in freeing up travel between the two countries."

The TTF report proposes reforms that would "reduce travel time, cut taxes and enable direct flights from New Zealand to Canberra, Newcastle, and Avalon [Melbourne] airports, as well as to Hobart and regional destinations in New South Wales and Queensland".

"Streamlining check-in and customs and quarantine procedures at major airports would make flying from New Zealand to Australia like a domestic service, cutting travel times by around 25 per cent.

"We want the door-to-door journey to be under five hours for those crossing the Tasman.

"Cutting the Passenger Movement Charge to $25 can reduce a trans-Tasman return airfare by 10 per cent, which would drive demand from the price-sensitive leisure market.

"Allowing flights from New Zealand to land in Newcastle, Hobart, Canberra or The Whitsundays would open up these cities as new destinations for leisure travel, especially the short-break market.

"If all these three reforms were implemented, we would expect to see as many as 200,000 additional New Zealanders visit Australia by 2020, with a boost to spending of up to $370 million."

Zimmerman says Australia needs to catch up to New Zealand, which has been active in opening up new regional destinations side like Rotorua, Hamilton, Queenstown and Dunedin.

"TTF's long term-agenda is to see passport-free travel through a common border, but noting the glacial speed with which these things seem to happen between Australia and New Zealand, this is a proposal to at least get some improvement while we pursue a long-term agenda," Zimmerman told Travellers' Check.

"There seems to be goodwill by the two prime ministers [Abbott and Key] to advance some of these and certainly the reforms have widespread support in the industry, including the airports.

"I think it requires political will to move these things and that's what we're calling on the governments to deliver."

The only new trans-Tasman destination opened up on the Australian side in the past two years has been Maroochydore airport, which last year saw its first direct Air New Zealand service from Auckland.

But it's still only a seasonal service operating outside of the winter months, when most of the Air New Zealand fleet is busy servicing the snow-skiing capital, Queenstown.

What would it take to make you want to holiday in New Zealand? Does the time it takes to get there put you off? Or is it the price of flights compared with a domestic ticket?

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