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‘Thinking in the dark’: Tour operators face uncertainty over travel bubble

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This is the hopeful but frustrating reaction of South Island’s tourism businesses to the news that the details of a promised trans-Tasman travel bubble are still two weeks away.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday she would not announce when un quarantined borders could be reopened to Australia until April 6.

New Zealand flying home now has to spend 14 days in managed isolation, with non-Kiwi only allowed with approval.

Closing the border had been a long, long, long time for a small business, said Ko Tne co-director Dave Brennan. His business, Waka on Avon, runs waka river trips on the Avon River in Christchurch.

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Dave Brennan from Waka to Avon, pictured with the custom-made company, says tourism businesses need a date for the trans-Tasman tourism bubble.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON / Sende

Dave Brennan from Waka to Avon, pictured with the custom-made company, says tourism businesses need a date for the trans-Tasman tourism bubble.

I would just like a decision, a date. The most important thing it will do is restore confidence in the industry, he said Monday.

Brennan said before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, 90 percent of their clients were Australians. Reopening the border will double their business by Christmas and resume plans to build new riverfront facilities, he said.

When we know, we can start planning.

He was not disappointed by the prospect of premature closure in the case of the Covid explosions, and expected that they would do better in handling this scenario.

Aaron Russ, based in Christchurch, Heritage Expeditions tours the Fiordland and subantarctic islands, said the pandemic has had a major impact on business, and the sector needed 100 percent security.

You are thinking in the dark and we have been for the last 12 months, Russ said.

Aaron Russ, of Heritage Expeditions, says opening the bubble will prevail over common sense.

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Aaron Russ, of Heritage Expeditions, says opening the bubble will prevail over common sense.

Preparing to be ready for overseas tourists again would involve a huge investment of time, money and staff, he said.

Opening a travel bubble would be the predominance of common sense.

Certainly the mixture of two populations without Covid is equal to no Covid.

New Zealand Tourism Survey shows that 2.3 million Australians want to travel to New Zealand within six months of opening a bubble.

Kath Low, head of tourism at ChristchurchNZ, said 47 per cent of overseas tourists in Canterbury the year before Covid were Australians, making the bubble a major driver of regional recovery.

Our tourism-related sectors have taken a big hit, and the trans-Tasman bubble is the blow to the side for all they need.

Advertising signs for tourist events in Canterbury stand near Lease signs in the free shops at the Crossroads Cathedral resort complex in central Christchurch.

Joseph Johnson / Stuff

Advertising signs for tourist events in Canterbury stand near Lease signs in the free shops at the Crossroads Cathedral resort complex in central Christchurch.

Low said they expected Christchurch to be an early beneficiary of a bubble, especially if it opens in time for the South Island ski season, which usually started in June.

Government figures revealed that New Zealand had a two-speed tourism economy since Covid, with the North Island passing much better than the South.

In January, traditionally the busiest month for tourism, many North Island destinations had more visitors this year than last January as New Zealand rested in the country.

The South Island destinations, heavily dependent on international tourists, were hit hardest, with Fiordland losing more than half of its trade from the previous January, and Queenstown and Mackenzie country dropping by a third.

Christchurch Airports and Aircraft Chief Justin Watson said 1.4 million passengers flew across Tasman to Christchurch in the year before Covid.

If there is a bubble, there is no reason why we will not see this level or even higher, as there are many closed requirements, he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces that there will be an announcement in April on the travel bubble in Australia.

ROBERT KUCHIN / Sende

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces that there will be an announcement in April on the travel bubble in Australia.

Prior to the border closure, the airport handled an average of 32 trans-Tasman arrivals and departures daily, including cargo flights.

We know there is strong interest from the airlines and we look forward to seeing Tasman [route] perform very well.

He said the airport was ready and safe for months for trans-Tasman passengers and all front line staff had been vaccinated.

The airport had begun construction to divide its international arrivals lounge into two separate areas: one for arrivals from Australia and one for the rest.

Watson said they were also making changes to allow special cleaning and processing of red and green flights.

Ben Patton, owner of Christchurch Central Restaurant, Italian Kitchen, Francesca, said the Arderns announcement was a bit disappointing but was promising for the bubble to happen.

For us it is when that date will be. “If we can put it in place for the traditional ski season, I think it would be a help for South Island,” he said.

If delayed … it will still be a few months difficult for the industry as a whole to improve.

The restaurant relied on neighboring hotels and the Isaac Theater Royal next door for dinners, he said.

As long as those people are still fighting, we will fight as well. Until there is some sort of stability, we will certainly continue to see places close in the coming months.

Queenstown Packaging will make plans before travel bubble decisions are issued.

Huw miles / supplied

Queenstown Packaging will make plans before travel bubble decisions are issued.

Huw Miles, owner of the Packsting Queenstown hiking and driving business, said the extra time would give operators the opportunity to do little strategy.

I am glad we have an advantage in it. I am also really angry to hear the criteria by which they will open up.

Businesses in Queenstown breathed collective relief when they heard the announcement, he said.

While there had been some very strong voices in Queenstown wanting to reopen, doing it safely was essential.

What we do not want is to open and close because we could not understand it properly.

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