The Australia-NZ travel bubble has already led to a massive spike in bookings – but authorities don’t expect tourism to hit pre-pandemic levels before 2022

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  • Airlines and travel agencies have reported hundredfold spikes in interest for destinations in New Zealand, after the two-way quarantine-free travel bubble was revealed.
  • Reciprocal travel will open at midnight on April 18, allowing travellers to cross the Tasman without undergoing mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantine.
  • Some travel mainstays remain cautious about the system, acknowledging further lockdowns could pop the fragile bubble system.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Airlines and travel agencies have welcomed a mass of new flight bookings to New Zealand, even as they remain wary of resurgent COVID-19 restrictions popping the two-way travel bubble.

Speaking in Wellington Tuesday afternoon, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced reciprocal, quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand will kick off at midnight, April 18.

While Kiwis have been permitted to enter Australia without spending 14 days in mandatory hotel quarantine for months, the new announcement promises Australians the most lenient international travel conditions since the pandemic began.

Appearing on “ABC News Breakfast” Wednesday morning, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said ticket sales spiked “by a factor of a hundred times what we would normally sell” in the hours after the announcement.

“There’s been quite a bit of pent up demand, and we’re just thrilled with the way that everyone is just wanting to reconnect.”

Later on the program, Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner said his embattled firm experienced similar demand.

The company fielded “probably about 4,000 bookings over those six or eight hours from when it was announced at 2:00pm,” Turner said.

And online travel booking portal Wotif states interest in holiday hotspot Queenstown spiked close to 1,770% compared to a week prior, with extreme upticks also seen for the Wanaka, Taranaki, and Gisborne regions.

The influx of bookings will surely be seen as good news for New Zealand’s tourism industry, which counts on Australian travellers to inject $2.5 billion into the local economy each year.

Even so, some airlines and travel industry mainstays remain cautious.

While quarantine-free travel is on the cards between New Zealand and Australian regions free of community infection, Ardern said New Zealand reserves the right to pause or suspend arrivals from designated outbreak zones.

There may be “some situations” where recent arrivals to New Zealand will be required to undergo a fortnight of hotel quarantine, she added.

“We’re based here in Auckland, New Zealand, and I think in the last six months we’ve been through three lockdowns, here in Auckland,” Foran said.

“And there is a risk the same could occur as we open up and partake in this bubble.”

Domestically, Qantas and JetStar have ramped up their offerings between Australia and New Zealand.

But Virgin Australia says the vast majority of its New Zealand services will remain suspended until October 31, citing “evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business”.

The bubble’s success is contingent on “trust that people can handle these future outbreaks,” Turner said, adding that Australia’s vaccine program must accelerate to provide travellers with further confidence.

“The vaccination program has just got to be upgraded,” Turner said.

For all of the recent uptake in flights from Australia to New Zealand, Kiwi authorities also believe it will be some time before tourism ramps back up.

“We expect that the first people to take up travel will be those wanting to reconnect with friends and family,” Tourism New Zealand Interim Chief Executive René de Monchy said in a statement.

Visitor numbers are only expected to return to 80% of pre-pandemic levels by January 2022, de Monchy added.

Even so, the bubble’s opening is promising news for tourists, families, and industries crushed by the year-long suspension of easy trans-Tasman travel.

Australians and New Zealanders have “built a muscle to deal with” any further interruptions, Air New Zealand’s Foran said.

“Fingers crossed there aren’t any significant issues, but if there are, we’re all in a pretty good condition to deal with that.”

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