Fiona Cooper: Making trans-Tasman travel safe again

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted the tourism sectors in New Zealand and Australia and worldwide. Travel underpins the highly valuable two-way trade and investment relationship. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, New Zealand was the most popular outbound travel destination for Australians with 1.5 million visiting in 2019, and trans-Tasman travel accounting for 40% of all foreign visitors here. Likewise, Australia was the most popular outbound travel destination for Kiwis. New Zealand is Australia’s second largest source market for visitors (behind China) with 1.4 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 15% of total visitors to Australia.

Each country is vital to the success of each other’s small and medium-sized businesses, and contribute strongly to each other’s tourism sectors, with estimated $3 billion in international visitor spend each way every year. That has all ground to a halt for now.

The pandemic has created a new opportunity for trans-Tasman collaboration to mitigate the economic impacts. Australia and New Zealand share a unique and close relationship and the prosperity of our nations is intertwined.  We have two of the most integrated economies in the world, with the Single Economic Market agenda in place to support a seamless trans-Tasman business environment.

On 5th May 2020, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand committed to introducing a trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone as soon as it is safe to do so. The Prime Ministers undertook to work closely with business leaders including the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum to help bring this about.

We welcome the efforts of both governments to include trans-Tasman travel as part of their strategies for economic recovery. Both countries have been successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 to date, and it makes sense for Australia and New Zealand to look to each other first to reopen our borders, when the time is right and it’s safe to do so.

The Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum is pleased to play its part by bringing business and government on both sides together to help New Zealand and Australia recover from the pandemic. The ANZLF is steered by the Australian and New Zealand Co-Chairs, Ann Sherry AO (Advisor Carnival Australia) and Greg Lowe (Group Chief Executive at Beca).

With borders now closed, the ANZLF’s Tourism Sector Group, co-chaired by Scott Tasker, General Manager Aeronautical Commercial Auckland International Airport and Margy Osmond, CEO Transport and Tourism Forum Australia, has been working with its partners to establish a Trans-Tasman Safe Border Working Group (TTSBWG). The objective is to develop a package of recommendations for how to safely reopen the air border between Australia and New Zealand when the time is deemed right by both governments.

It is intended that the joint working group will be made up of technical and operational experts from both countries in matters of aviation operations, border operations and international health from airlines, airports, government border agencies and health agencies. The targeted outcome will be a set of safe 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 TTSBWG kicks off next week and will move promptly to develop its recommendations for consideration by both governments. It will be up to the governments to decide when and how the trans-Tasman air border will be re-opened. The collaboration between public and private sector representatives will be important to devise a system that all parts of the aviation system can go with when the health evidence supports it.

While our countries continue to focus on the number one priority of getting the covid-19 virus under control, it is important that we can start planning and testing for what might be possible in the future to help us connect again with family and friends and to safely support the restart of tourism and trade. There is 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.

Australia and New Zealand have a proud history of pulling together when facing a common threat.  Covid-19 is the latest example and we have no doubt that the strength of the trans-Tasman relationship will help the economies of both countries to pull through.

Fiona Cooper is New Zealand Director, Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum

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