Travel bubble pre-departure Covid-19 testing: Warning over $220 test for trips to NZ

The requirement for travellers flying from Australia to New Zealand to get a Covid-19 pre-departure test, costing up to $220, will put some people off trans-Tasman travel, industry experts say.

Last week, the New Zealand government added pre-departure testing as a condition of quarantine-free travel from Australia, as a response to Covid-19 outbreaks there.

All passengers coming from Australia aged 2 and older are required to get a test from a private pathology clinic within 72 hours of their scheduled departure time.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said tests cost between $150 and $220.

"Travel is increasingly complicated and expensive, and for many people who would like to come here, it may just be getting too hard," Roberts said.

He said he hoped Australia's outbreaks would be brought under control, and the requirement could be lifted.

When flights from Australia resumed on Monday planes into Queenstown were almost full, he said.

"It seems that many Australians, who had already booked and paid for holidays, were prepared to endure the additional cost and inconvenience of being tested."

Pre-departure testing was one of many tools the New Zealand government had to address the risks of Covid-19 to New Zealand, he said.


"It should be used when it is required, but we hope it does not become a permanent feature."

University of Otago head of tourism Neil Carr​ said added costs of flying was not such a deterrant to travellers flying a long way to New Zealand for the trip of a lifetime.

However, for visitors from Australia, visiting only for a short time, and planning to spend a relatively small amount on their visit, the issue of adding a pre-departure Covid-19 test became potentially more pressing, he said.

"We also have to recognise of course that this is not necessarily only an individual thing," Carr​ said.

For example, for a family of four planning to come to New Zealand for a skiing holiday the cost had gone up by about $800.

The added hassle of having to organise such a test also put a barrier in the way of people deciding to come to New Zealand, he said.

Costs and logistical issues aside, the other concern for travellers was the fragility of the travel bubble, he said.

"Planning to travel in such uncertain times demands a level of flexibility that many people simply do not have."

The instability of the bubble led to uncertainty in the minds of potential tourists who must then weigh up the risks associated with travelling and then being stuck with no easy route home, he said.

"So what we see is a cumulative list of barriers to travel."

He said there was no one point at which tourists stop coming, rather each barrier would have a different impact on each person.

Independent economist Benje Patterson said pre-departure testing would be prohibitive for people on weekend getaways, but shouldn't get in the way of people taking longer holidays.

Places like Queenstown would still get people for ski weeks, but Wellington and Auckland would miss out on people travelling for wining and dining, he said.

"The additional testing barrier reiterates the overwhelming sense that the trans-Tasman bubble is less lucrative than had been anticipated."

Few tourism operators were seeing demand materially lift and there was still a long road ahead before the sector can recover, he said.

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