By PHILIP CHANDLER
A leading New Zealand business commentator has come up with an idea that could be of huge benefit to Queenstown’s beleaguered tourism industry.
It’s assumed, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that NZ’s international borders will remain shut for another six to 12 months, or even longer, till a vaccine’s developed allowing people to safely travel overseas again.
In the interim, once the lockdown’s over, it means Queenstown can expect only Kiwis to visit – a scary prospect given the resort formerly hosted 70 per cent of its visitors from overseas.
This week, however, investment analyst Brian Gaynor suggests in a column on the BusinessDesk website that NZ and Australia join in a post-lockdown bubble, once the virus is under control on both sides of the Tasman.
This would then allow those in each country to safely travel to the other before any vaccine’s developed.
“Tourism bodies are short-sighted if they put their emphasis solely on the home market,” he says, “when a trans-Tasman approach may generate a quicker recovery and deliver benefits to a wider group of participants …”
Australia’s traditionally been Queenstown’s largest source of visitors, by far, thanks especially to direct flights between the resort and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The Aussie market’s also been especially important to Queenstown’s ski season business.
Last year, out of 3,888,473 short-term visitors to NZ, 1,537,988 hailed from Australia.
So how does NZ form a travel bubble with Australia?
Gaynor proposes an Australasian smartphone app that could enable Kiwis and Aussies to freely travel between each country.
“The app would contain records of a traveller’s virus tests and immunity data with a green code signalling that the traveller was clear to cross the Tasman.”
The app – which would also apply to all airline crew – would also enable people to get through airports more quickly, Gaynor suggests, given airport medical checks are likely to be stepped up.
He says the app would be equivalent to the vaccination certificates international travellers used to have to carry, and would require “regular repeat testing or other criteria considered appropriate by medical experts”.
Gaynor notes it would allow trans-Tasman sporting competitions to resume.
However for Queenstown it could literally become a lifeline, given the resort’s heavy dependence on tourism.
“Any proposed travel and tourism bubble with Australia would be temporary,” Gaynor writes, “as the longer-term objective would be to extend this bubble, particularly to the Pacific Islands and other regions.”