The long-anticipated travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand is finally taking off, and experts say it’s cause for ‘cautious’ optimism about what could be next.
From 11.59pm on April 18, Australians will be able to cross the ditch and return home quarantine-free, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday.
It will mark the first time since international borders closed in March last year that Australians will be allowed to travel overseas without needing to quarantine upon their return.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the two-way bubble as “the first of many more steps to come” on the path to a COVID-normal.
“The fact that we can now combine again will mean jobs, will mean people reunited. It will mean many opportunities as those normal relations are restored between Australia and NZ,” Mr Morrison said.
David Beirman, a senior lecturer in tourism at UTS Business School, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the travel bubble.
“New Zealand has tended to be very skittish about the coronavirus … they also seem to close the borders fairly regularly … but we’ve got to look on the bright side of it,” Dr Beirman said.
“For one, New Zealand is the first country that Australians have actually been permitted to visit in over a year … that’s a big change.”
There has been a one-way travel bubble in place since October, with New Zealanders allowed to travel quarantine-free to Australia and pay to undergo hotel quarantine upon their return to New Zealand.
“What we’re seeing now is something which is reciprocal, and that’s very similar to bubbles that were started in Europe back in June and July of last year. So basically nine months after the Europeans did it, we’re actually starting to do it,” Dr Beirman said.
RMIT aviation expert Chrystal Zhang said the travel bubble was “good news for both businesses and leisure travellers” as well as the tourism industry and airlines.
“It’s an indication in my view that both the government and the industry are ready … They have the confidence that they’re able to cope with any kind of occurrence,” Dr Zhang said.
‘Flyer beware’: Trans-Tasman bubble not without risk
Those keen to take advantage of the new bubble have been warned that travelling won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic, instead operating on a ‘flyer beware’ basis.
Cancelled flights, orders to self-isolate, and 14 days of hotel quarantine are some of the risks travellers face if there is an outbreak of COVID-19.
“While quarantine-free travel to Australia and vice versa will start in a fortnight, it will not be what it was pre-COVID,” Ms Ardern said.
Despite encouraging Australians to “come and enjoy the hospitality New Zealand is ready and waiting to offer”, Ms Ardern warned that “those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware“.
“Once we know about a case in Australia we will have three possible responses when it comes to flights and access to our border, and we’ve captured these with a framework based on continue, pause or suspend,” she said.
There are many things that can jeopardise the bubble, Dr Beirman warned.
He cited the example of a travel bubble between Spain and the UK, which lasted only a few weeks before it was popped due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“But we’ve got to be very cautiously optimistic. I think in principle, it’s great. It creates lots of opportunities,” Dr Beirman said.
Will we see more travel bubbles?
The trans-Tasman travel bubble is a “test case” for future travel bubbles with other countries that have had similar success in containing COVID-19, Dr Beirman said.
“I think if we can succeed with the trans-Tasman bubble, then we can start looking at the next bubble,” he said.
All things going well, a bubble could be made between Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu, Dr Beirman said.
“There have also been quite a number of countries in East and South-East Asia, which has been pretty successful in containing COVID, and they’re all places that Australians would like to get to,” Dr Beirman said.
According to Dr Zhang, countries including Singapore, China and Vietnam could be next in line for travel between Australia.