New Zealand’s long-awaited travel bubble begins on Monday – and it has already sparked a search frenzy.
According to global booking site Agoda.com, there was an 850% increase in searches by Australians looking for accommodation in New Zealand, and a 470% increase for New Zealanders searching for trips to Australia.
Queenstown was number one most searched international destination for Australians, followed by Auckland and Christchurch.
The Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne were top of the list for Kiwis.
“The desire for immediate travel to international spots clearly highlights people’s pent-up desire and passion to travel again, as soon as there is a safe option to do so,” says Zsuzsanna Janos, Director Oceania at Agoda.
But as Australia’s vaccine operation descended into chaos last week, the bubble with New Zealand could be the last for a while.
As the first jets leave Australia – a Flight Centre spokesperson said seats were selling themselves and “we’re having no trouble selling flights to New Zealand” – no-one could quite agree about the consequences of Australia’s vaccine failure on the chances of other bubbles and travel overseas at the end of the year.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce said he thought we’ll still be back in the air at the end of the year – though he is “firm but flexible” about his October deadline. He was even talking up bubbles with Singapore and Taiwan.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to have thrown in the towel and isn’t about to predict anything.
Only Health Minister Greg Hunt stuck his neck out: even a vaccine rollout may not allow Australia to open its borders. “If the whole country was vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders,” he said.
“We still have to look at a series of different factors: transmission, longevity and the global impact. And those are factors which the world is learning about”.
The heavily guarded statement will come as a bitter disappointment to the travel industry, which is desperate for a travel restart. New Zealand is so far the only country to open a corridor, and at the weekend there were suggestions that Singapore, Japan and Taiwan could follow.
But with no set targets and a huge shortage of the right vaccines, it will probably take till the end of the year to get all Australians vaccinated with their first dose.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ordered weekly meetings with states and territories to keep the pressure on. But he said: “We’ll keep moving quickly to vaccinate our most vulnerable population and we’ll keep those borders closed for as long as we have to, but only as long as we have to”.
Mr Hunt was no all doom and gloom. He did say: “As we’ve said, this year will be about progressively opening up’’.
And he added: “We’re then looking at other countries within the Pacific and within the region that are potentially low-transmission environments”.
Deloitte Access Economics predicts international travel won’t be back on track before 2024.
Deloitte economist Chris Richardson said the vaccine rollout and concerns about the pandemic would stop overseas travel returning to the levels of 2019.
“That keeps international travel – both inbound and outbound – pretty weak in 2022, and it may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024,” he said.