After nearly 400 days of international border closures, emotional reunions and ecstatic travellers were seen at airports across New Zealand and Australia this week, as the long-awaited Trans-Tasman travel bubble finally opened on 19 April.
For Air New Zealand, the carrier saw a record sales day on the Tasman on 6 April, with "tens of thousands of Kiwis and Aussies booking flights across the ditch" following the bubble's announcement.
In fact, even prior to this news, the airline reported on 30 March that business and corporate travel had already returned to 90% of pre-Covid levels. In comparison to the United States, the business figure stands around 15% of domestic travel.
"Our initial hopes were a return to 70% next year, so to recover to near normal levels this quickly really reinforces the strength of our domestic network and the desire of Kiwis to reconnect in person," said Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer, Leanne Geraghty about a week before the bubble was confirmed.
In response to increased demand, the Kiwi airline has added more seats, more business-timed flights and brought on more crew. They are also considering deploying larger aircraft such as the A321 on popular flights, and "reduced our top-class fares, meaning customers booking at short notice will pay up to NZD$100 (US$72) less per seat".
Similarly for Qantas, the carrier reportedly received tens of thousands of bookings made in the first few days.
Don Braid, group managing director of Mainfreight — an IATA air freight provider with branches in New Zealand — agrees with Geraghty.
"Although online meetings offered a practical solution, there's no getting away from how good face-to-face meetings are. Our team works closely with our customers to manage their supply chains, and the personal connection is an important part of maintaining strong working relationships."
News of the border opening has been especially well received by New Zealand’s business events and travel industry, the bubble giving "Australian organisers the confidence needed to plan and book their events in New Zealand, not just for this year, but further ahead," said Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) chief executive, Lisa Hopkins.
Anticipation — and participation — is expected to ramp up for the next major trade event in New Zealand: BEIA's MEETINGS 2021, happening from 2-3 June.
Travel milestone for Australia and New Zealand
On 19 April, Qantas and Jetstar saw 630 employees reporting back to work, with flights also resuming for all 15 routes previously flown to New Zealand. Both airlines operated a combined 29 flights carrying thousands of customers on this one day, with around 200 flights to operate each week.
For Jetstar's first Sydney to Auckland flight at 6.15am and Qantas' Sydney to Auckland flight at 9.05am, both planes were flying at near full capacity, including a full business cabin for the latter.
Monday also marked Qantas' new route between the Gold Coast and Auckland — the first international flight from Gold Coast Airport.
On the grass embankment of Wellington Airport's runway, giant letters spelling "Welcome Whanau" (family) greeted incoming passengers.
Talks of the bubble began back in October, although it was mostly for entry into selected Australian states. The first flights on 19 April marked the start of quarantine-free, unhindered two-way travel.
If all flies well, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran expects to see a huge influx of Aussies entering Queenstown in July and September for the peak ski season.
Source: Travel Weekly Asia