Citizens on each side of the Tasman are on the verge of being able to visit each other without quarantine.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has flagged the possibility of a travel bubble with Australia early next year, with both countries having brought the spread of coronavirus under control.
As the potential of quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand approaches, when should people start planning trips?
What happens if you book a flight but the bubble doesn’t go ahead?
Here’s a look at what we know so far.
When can I book flights?
No clear dates have been announced by the New Zealand Government for the travel bubble.
We’ve been told the first quarter of 2021, but even that comes with conditions.
Ms Ardern said there were several requirements that needed to be met for the bubble to be approved, including 28 consecutive days without community transmission across Australia.
At this stage, Ms Arden plans to announce the date on which the bubble would start at the beginning of next year.
“Once remaining details are locked down,” she said.
Air New Zealand chief executive officer Greg Foran said the announcement was a great step and crews were busily preparing for the resumption of more frequent services.
“Safety is obviously a big priority for our airline, and we’ve been working closely with governments, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up,” Mr Foran said.
While it is possible to book a seat on one of the limited flights to New Zealand from Australia at the moment, New Zealand’s strict quarantine laws mean any arriving passenger has to go into the managed isolation program.
Travellers cannot board a flight into New Zealand without documents proving they have secured one of the “extremely limited” spots at an appropriate facility, the New Zealand Government warns.
Qantas has been flying a reduced schedule between Sydney and Auckland, and has been preparing to increase operations as it waits on more details from authorities.
“We know there’s a huge amount of pent-up demand for travel between Australia and New Zealand and we’re looking forward to adding significant amounts of capacity across the Tasman once details about the bubble and when it will begin is confirmed,” a spokesman said.
Will tickets be more expensive than usual?
Neither airline had anything to say about ticket prices.
Airline companies could go one of two ways when it comes to flight prices, according to Dr Char-lee Moyle, senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Either airlines will offer deals to entice more travel, or hike prices to try and recover losses.
As prices stand at the moment, a return trip to Auckland in the second week in February would cost anywhere between $1200-$1900, depending on where you fly from.
Currently, Brisbane is the cheapest place from which to leave and return, with Adelaide on the more expensive side.
And with limited flights announced, prices are almost certain to be higher than they were previously.
What if I book a flight and the bubble has not begun?
For Australians wanting to book flights to New Zealand for early next year, familiarising yourself with the refund policy of the companies you book with is important.
The ACCC says any cancellations made because of restrictions enforced by a government may not result in an automatic refund.
State and territory consumer protection agencies may also be able to assist, while more specific information from the ACCC can be found on its website.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the tourism industry earlier this year, several Australians were left out of pocket.
Difficulty getting refunds was a major issue for thousands of travellers.
Complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over travel-related issues was up nearly 500 per cent between January and October this year.
In November, ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court told the ABC there were examples of tourism companies changing their policies after the pandemic had begun.
“We saw some examples of businesses retrospectively changing the terms and conditions and saying, ‘Oh look, because of COVID, the terms and conditions don’t apply, you can’t get a refund,’ when that was not the case,” she told AM.
How many flights will be made available?
Both Qantas and Air New Zealand refused to be drawn about their planned schedules, saying they were waiting for more information from governments before making announcements.
“We appreciate people are enthusiastic about travel, and we can assure customers that as soon as it is viable, Air New Zealand will be ready,” Mr Foran said.
Dr Moyle said many people may not opt for international travel in the short term.
“Some people are putting it off. People are doing shorter trips closer to home, like driving, because it is more certain,” Dr Moyle told the ABC.
“Even when we open up, getting people’s confidence back will take some time.”
This is why tourism marketing should be an important focus for Australia’s business and tourism sector.
“It comes down to how well it is marketed, are we giving them good deals?” Dr Moyle said.
“We need to think how we can market to New Zealand and be safety conscious.
“We are going to see a shift in behaviour.
“We will see maybe people wanting to do more nature — people will want to disperse more than be in large crowds.”
What will travel to New Zealand look like?
Well, it may not be an exodus of Australians on holidays.
Instead, seats are expected to be snapped up by people travelling for business and those who have been waiting through lockdowns and travel restrictions to reconnect with family and friends.
Dr Moyle said New Zealanders had similar travel habits to Australians, and both tend to disperse into regional areas, not spending as much money, but preferring to spend time with loved ones.
“(Tourism) will come back, but it will be slower to rebound,” she said.
“It’s not that they don’t have the money for it, it will be getting them to spend.”
How are flights looking if I stay closer to home?
A lot better!
If the unknowns of the bubble are making you think more about a trip in Australia, it looks like finding a ticket could become a lot easier from February.
Jetstar has announced it will put on more domestic flights through February and March than ever before.
It will use aircraft that would otherwise be flying to overseas destinations to help with the expected surge in travel — to more than 110 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
“While international borders remain closed, more Australians are set to explore places around the country they have never visited, which is great news for local hospitality and tourism operators,” Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans said in a statement.
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