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The news Europe has opened its borders to New Zealand residents has sparked a surge in interest for overseas travel at booking agents, despite the challenge to overseas travel during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Travel agents flightcentre.co.nz reported a 450 per cent rise in searches for airfares to Europe following the announcement on Tuesday New Zealand residents would be allowed to enter EU member states exempt of travel restrictions.
However, in spite of the growing number of countries opening their borders to New Zealand travellers, the reality of long and complex flight itineraries from New Zealand and subsequent risk of spreading the coronavirus means international travel is still a long way off.
While there is definitely “an appetite” for overseas travel, very little is translating into bookings, says Victoria Courtney, Flight Centre NZ’s product general manager.
Most of the company’s overseas bookings are still repatriation flights for New Zealand citizens and fares are extremely limited.
“While it’s certainly exciting that the EU has included us in their safe list – the reality of a Greek Island getaway may still be a few steps away,” Courtney says.
Because of New Zealand’s own tough stance on border control, the number of flights entering and leaving the country remain low.
“They are likely will continue that way until NZ too softens it’s border restrictions,” says Courtney, who adds a mandatory two-week managed isolation period on return is also a big deterrent.
Then there is the fact that travel, particularly to Europe, requires transit through other travel hubs. Because of the rapidly developing nature of the pandemic there is a risk that air routes and travel options may close, leaving passengers stranded.
For this reason the official advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is simply “not to travel overseas” at this time.
“The Government is committed to helping New Zealanders overseas where we can. But the international situation is complex and changing quickly, and some things are out of our control. Assisted departure flights should not be relied upon to get home,” MFAT advises on its website safetravel.govt.nz.
“We’ve had a spike in domestic holiday and corporate bookings too, as offices get back to business and Kiwis hanker for a backyard adventure,” Courtney says.
Not wanting to jeopardise the hard work done to eliminate Covid-19, New Zealanders might be dreaming of overseas travel but they’re content to stay closer to home.
What countries are welcoming New Zealand travellers?
New Zealand was one of 15 countries listed by the European Council outside the trading bloc for which it would start lifting travel restrictions.
While the list is subject to review every two weeks it’s a sign New Zealand’s successful management of the virus within its own borders is being recognised.
Europe is just the latest destination to propose travel corridors or “bubbles” between countries with low cases of Covid 19.
Desert islands resorts from French Polynesia, the Maldives to the Seychelles have already announced they are open to inbound tourists from New Zealand. Although many bucket-list destinations are technically open for business, getting there may not be as simple as booking flights.
Dreams of a travel corridor with Australia, our closest neighbour, have been set back by high community transmission within Australian states. Any future travel agreements will remain fragile while the potential of Covid-19 transmission remains.
The European Council has said inclusion on its “safe list” is dependent on the country having a Covid 14-day case count per 100,000 lower than the EU average.
A spokesperson for MFAT emphasised that this list was a decision made by the European Union and New Zealand did not have any input or consultation about being included on it.
While it is “safe” for Europe to open collective borders to New Zealanders this doesn’t take into account the much higher risk of those travellers contracting the virus while in Europe.
One of the biggest deterrents against overseas travel is the fact all inbound travellers to New Zealand have to undergo 14 days enforced self-isolation.
The NZ Government says it is considering proposals for travellers arriving in the country to pay at least some of the price of quarantine on arrival.
In Australia, Queensland is introducing a co-payment of about $200 a day for arrivals into the state, having paid $25 million in quarantine bills already.
While it is not clear if New Zealand can legally charge citizens to enter the country, many are in favour of travellers footing the bill – with 62 per cent of respondents surveyed saying: “Yes, travellers should pay”.