A joint Australia-New Zealand business-led initiative has set up a new group to develop proposals for reopening the border between the two countries to drive travel as they recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
Both Australia and New Zealand are currently closed to non-residents and anyone entering must undergo a 14-day quarantine period.
With the outbreak of the virus seemingly under control in the two countries, their prime ministers announced on 5 May plans to start work on easing travel restrictions across the Tasman.
Separately, the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF) said on Tuesday it was setting up the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, made up of health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives. The working group was initiated by Auckland Airport, one of the first businesses to call for a trans-Tasman “bubble”.
Margy Osmond, Australian co-chair of the ANZLF tourism sector group, said in a statement: “Our target outcome will be a safe set of travel processes to manage health risks while allowing trans-Tasman travel to recommence without the need for a 14-day compulsory quarantine or self-isolation period on arrival in the destination country.”
The group will focus on operational components for airlines, crew and ground handling, as well as the passenger side, including inflight protocols, border processing, embarking and disembarking, testing and contact tracing.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said: “It’s going to take time and a collective effort to develop solutions, but drawing on the expertise of this group and the ANZLF our hope is that all parts of the system will be ready to go when the health evidence supports it.”
The trans-Tasman bubble could especially benefit New Zealand’s economy, which is more reliant on international tourism than Australia’s.
The ANZLF said it was estimated that Kiwis and Australian tourists spend the equivalent of about $2 billion, around NZ$3 billion or A$3 billion, in each other’s countries each year.
New Zealand was the most popular destination for Australians with 1.5 million visiting in 2019, accounting for 40% of all foreign visitors to New Zealand. Around 1.4 million New Zealanders visited Australia in 2019, accounting for 15% of total visitors to Australia, the second-largest group behind China.
According to Cirium schedules data, just under 10% of total flights originating in New Zealand in 2019 were to Australia. Of flights originating in Australia, 3% were to New Zealand.
Air New Zealand has previously said that before the coronavirus outbreak that around 22% of its available seat kilometres (ASKs) were deployed to Australia.
It is not yet clear when such a trans-Tasman bubble could be in place. Australia and New Zealand leaders Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday it would only happen once safe to do so and provided the necessary health and transport arrangements were in place to protect public health.
“Once we have established effective travel arrangements across the Tasman, we will also explore opportunities to expand the concept to members of our broader Pacific family, enabling travel between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries,” they added in a joint statement.
The ANZLF said the experience gained from the trans-Tasman effort can also be used to help other countries lift their border restrictions.
Geoff Culbert, chief executive of Sydney airport, said, “There’s real merit in using Australia-New Zealand travel as an international test case, establishing proof of concept that can be rolled out more broadly to other markets when the time is right.”