Travel after the coronavirus pandemic: Trans-Tasman 'bubble' could ease travel restrictions between Australia and New Zealand

 If you're dreaming of your first post-COVID-19 overseas holiday then you may care to make it a trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud, with the idea of a "trans-Tasman bubble" holding the potential to make a trip across the ditch a smoother, more "domestic like" travel experience than in the pre-pandemic past. 

Some Kiwis are even hoping to be able to welcome Australians across the ditch in time for this year's ski season.

The concept of a single trans-Tasman domestic tourism market was discussed some years ago by former prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand, Kevin Rudd and John Key, but never eventuated.  The damage the coronavirus has wrought on both countries' multi-billion dollar tourism and aviation industries has brought the idea back into focus, with Simon Birmingham, Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, already having indicated that New Zealand will likely be the first overseas destination to become available to Australians.

The chief executive of Auckland International Airport, Adrian Littlewood, says with both countries set to emerge as leaders in the containment of COVID-19, an opportunity exists to open the two nations' borders to each other and provide an enormous boost to their tourism sectors which combined employ more than a million people.

"I don't think a single formal domestic market would seriously work due to some major factors, but we can work out how to create a 'domestic-like' market that would make an international holiday between New Zealand and Australia much easier," Littlewood says. "If we don't start thinking about it now we won't be ready for when the markets are reactivated."

Chris Roberts, the chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, says New Zealand's tourism industry has long supported the trans-Tasman bubble model. Australia has been New Zealand's biggest annual visitor market and a million or so Australians typically visit New Zealand each year.

"If both countries maintain our current, apparent success in containing the spread of COVID-19, the opportunity to open up trans-Tasman travel would be a major boost that would undoubtedly help save thousands of tourism and hospitality businesses, and tens of thousands of jobs," Roberts says.

"It would require all the systems to be in place to deal with COVID-19 risks and public acceptance that such a reopening was safe and possible. We need an exit path from the current crisis. Discussions have already begun on what it will take to create a trans-Tasman bubble. We would love to be able to welcome Australians to New Zealand in time for the ski season."

Peter Shelley, managing director of the Australia Tourism Export Council supports the Trans-Tasman bubble concept, pointing to the 1.3 million New Zealand tourists Australia welcomed annually before the pandemic, a market second-only to China.


"An ANZAC-style tourism alliance could really help ease our tourism industry out of the COVID-19 black hole, providing an exit strategy which builds on safe and familiar trade relationships," Shelley says. "There is a great deal of commonality between Australia and New Zealand, and we can use this to our advantage as we navigate what is going to be a challenging health and safety environment going forward.

"A tourism 'bubble' between our two countries would allow both nations to begin to ease back into what will undoubtedly be a remarkably different travel environment and it would be great for our countries to share our experiences and support each other in rebuilding our tourism economies."

Roberts says leading tourism and aviation representatives from each country need to be involved in turning the trans-Tasman bubble into a reality, along with their respective border force agencies.

If the model proves safe and successful, both Roberts and Littlewood would like to see it extended to embrace tourism-dependant nations in the Pacific, which are "hugely reliant" on links with Australia and New Zealand, and potentially to other overseas markets.

See also: Twenty things that will surprise first-time visitors to NZ

See also: Why New Zealand might just be the best destination in the world