Tourism in a trans-Tasman bubble – Expert Reaction

The Prime Minister’s commitment to a “COVID-safe Travel Zone” between Australia and New Zealand could give our tourism industry a key opportunity to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

However, epidemiologists have warned that testing and contact tracing abilities in both countries need to be up to scratch before such a move can be safely taken.

The SMC asked experts to comment on how a trans-Tasman bubble would affect New Zealand’s tourism industry. 

Dr Julia Albrecht, Department of Tourism, University of Otago, comments:

“The possibility of a trans-Tasman bubble was first broached several weeks ago, and yesterday’s conversations between Australian and New Zealand government leaders indicate that it may become a reality in the foreseeable future.

“Merging the Australian and New Zealand bubbles sparks hope in New Zealand tourism operators whose market would increase six-fold. It may be the much needed lifeline for many New Zealand tourism businesses. We cannot reasonably expect the return of international tourism in 2020, and opening up to a market of an additional 25 million may make a crucial difference for an industry that currently anticipates job losses of 50%.

“In order to avoid the significant risk that a trans-Tasman bubble poses, we need to get two things right. First, we need to allow, or better still encourage, domestic travel as early as under Alert Level 2. Operating domestically provides an excellent window of opportunity to test products that were adapted to suit physical distancing protocols as well as revised operational procedures in a comparatively safe setting. Second, as the tourism industry simply cannot afford another period under Alert Level 4, we need to be certain that both countries sustain their efforts in eliminating COVID-19 within their borders.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor C. Michael Hall, Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The notion of a trans-Tasman bubble that is currently being promoted by the Australian and New Zealand tourism industries as well as some politicians is one of the most logical and appropriate ways to restart tourism in the two countries.

“Together with encouraging domestic travel, the fact that Australia and New Zealand represent major markets for the other country and that there is already a clear regulatory structure for travel between the countries make “the bubble” something of a no-brainer when it comes to tourism policy.

“The relatively similar health systems and COVID-19 management strategies also provide a clear pathway for agreeing any new health and biosecurity requirements for trans-Tasman travel. For example, possibly changing the customs form to reflect COVID-19 or requiring use of an app for tracing.

“Once COVID-19 has reached the equivalent of Level 2 in both countries, there will be a firm basis to encourage much higher levels of trans-Tasman travel.

“Importantly, it will not just be the ski and city tourism holiday markets that will be a focus but also encouraging Visiting Friends and Relations (VFR) travel. This market tends to be less risk averse and should be a major domestic and international marketing focus for regional tourism organisations so as to get tourism underway.

“The high degree of familiarity of trans-Tasman tourists to each other’s countries also helps provide a sense of security that will encourage travel.

“The notion of a “bubble” builds upon the already close travel ties between the countries and it is interesting to see that there are already proposals for the resumption of trans-Tasman routes, such as Christchurch-Hobart, that were abandoned in the 1990s. Such direct routes can also help better manage travel risks arising from renewed outbreaks of the coronavirus. Once travel resumes, other direct flight markets between New Zealand and the various Australian states will also have potential for development.

“As well as immediate economic benefits, the bubble will also potentially have long-term benefits to position New Zealand and Australia as safe destinations, which will be critical in the post-COVID-19 environment.

“The eventual expansion of the bubble to some of the South Pacific countries that are COVID-19 free will also help provide much needed economic help to those countries, as well as potentially enabling the resumption of some of the short-term labour schemes that Australia and New Zealand’s horticultural sectors rely upon.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Hongzhi Gao, Victoria University of Wellington and Associate Professor Monica Ren,  Macquarie University, comment:

Note: these comments are excerpted from The Conversation.

“Understandably, discussions about creating a “trans-Tasman bubble” between Australia and New Zealand have focused on kick-starting economic activity in the short term, particularly through tourism. But both countries also need to take a longer-term view of boosting economic activity – including through increased manufacturing and trade integration.

“The COVID-19 crisis has thrown Australian and New Zealand businesses’ dependence on China into stark relief. With countries reportedly competing with and undercutting each other to secure desperately needed medical supplies from China, many are now waking up to their economic exposure to a single manufacturing giant.

“A cooperative trans-Tasman manufacturing strategy should be on the table right now and in any future bilateral trade policy conversations.”

Conflict of interest statement: Hongzhi Gao owns shares in Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Ltd.

Professor James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago and Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia, comment:

Note: these comments are excerpted from The Conversation.

“A travel bubble would see quarantine-free travel allowed between Australia and New Zealand.

“The two neighbours have a unique opportunity to do this. Not only are they geographically isolated, both have so far had success containing – perhaps even eliminating – COVID-19 cases within their borders.

“It is not yet known when international flows of tourists will be possible again. But it is understood that global tourism as we once knew it will not be possible until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

“The beauty of our shared travel markets is our visitors are generally repeat visitors who head to diverse regions. Because more than 70% of Australians book self-drive holidays, for example, their spending spreads more widely than some other visitors.

“Australians seek skiing and adventure in Queenstown, wine in the Martinborough or Waiheke Island regions. They also support Australian sports teams competing in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. In reverse, lots of Kiwis head to the Gold Coast but also visit the Hunter Valley for wine or Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for sports events.

“Starting to rebuild these markets while the rest of the world remains in lockdown would represent a huge boost to both economies.”

No conflict of interest.