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South Island responds to Prime Minister’s Australia ‘travel bubble’ announcement


Having suffered throughout the global pandemic, Queenstown’s shops, restaurants and tourism operators are looking forward to the travel bubble with Australia. Photo / NZH

The South Island’s struggling tourism and hospitality sectors have today welcomed news of an imminent trans-Tasman travel bubble, especially with winter and the snow sports season looming.

Quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia will begin on April 19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced, confirming that all the conditions for the bubble have been met.

“The director-general of health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine free travel is safe to commence,” Ardern said.

Bob Tovey who runs Basil, Parsley & Partners herbs business from Cromwell, supplying Queenstown and Wanaka restaurants and supermarkets, said the announcement is the positive boost the embattled region has required.

The pandemic has knocked his herbs business back 20-plus years, he reckons.

“That [bubble] will absolutely, 100 per cent increase sales,” said Tovey this afternoon.

“I think every plane will be full from Australia to Queenstown, and vice versa, with us going over there.”

Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult is “extremely happy” with the news, saying many locals have already been contacting him, saying they are “just over the moon”.

“This is what we’ve been looking for, for literally 12 months,” Boult says.

Some Queenstown area businesses have already folded due to the global pandemic, gone into hibernation, or are “holding on by fingernails”, the mayor says.

“For many, many businesses, this is survival. This is the thing that will keep business afloat,” he added.

“I just cannot express just how happy I am at today’s announcement. This will make a really big difference for those people who have been struggling.”

It was the news the South Island’s hospitality and tourism sectors have been eagerly awaiting, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce says.

But chief executive Leeann Watson says it will also be a boost for small businesses, including retailers, who rely on international tourism spend, and are also shouldering additional costs due to operating in a Covid environment and the increased minimum wage which just kicked in.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says while some travellers won’t want to take any risks, he’s adamant plenty of Australians are preparing to embrace the South Island this winter.

“We’ve got some really solid bookings from Australia already for school holidays, so we know that there’s a big part of that market who are prepared to take the risks that remain, and get over here and enjoy what we have to offer,” Anderson says.

“It’s usually about 40 per cent of our visitation in winter comes from Australia, so getting that economic stimulus back into the resort over those three or four months is just massive.

“We know having access to that much bigger market is going to be really helpful for us to maintain employment for a lot more staff as we go into August and September.

“It’s going to mean a big difference for both Remarkables and Coronet Peak but also to our local community and breathe life back into the businesses.”

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White agreed, saying the bubble could mean winter won’t be “as dark as some businesses were fearing”.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, when visiting struggling tourist hot-spot Kaikoura last week, warned it could be 3-4 years before international travel returned to pre-Covid levels.

But Christchurch Airport says it is ready and waiting for trans-Tasman travellers, with its frontline staff already vaccinated.

All of its processes are safely in place and been approved by government agencies, chief aeronautical and commercial officer Justin Watson said.

“We have been ready and safe for months to welcome both travellers and partner airlines who travel the Tasman, with others waiting to come here from further afield,” Watson said.

“Safety is a top priority for us and we have made changes to allow for separate processing of red and green flights based on schedule separation and cleaning.

“We have also begun construction to physically split the international arrivals area into two distinct pathways to allow simultaneous operations, because we anticipate red and green flights will required for some time.”

International airlines Qantas, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Emirates and Singapore Airlines have continued to operate into Christchurch across the Tasman during the pandemic.

Ngāi Tahu Tourism, which owns several tourism attractions, welcomed today’s announcement.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides business manager Jonathan Tyler said the trans-Tasman bubble comes as a relief.

“We’re excited to open up again to the international market and look forward to further safe border openings in time. This will be a huge leg up for the West Coast region,” Tyler said.

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