Coronavirus has caused the travel industry to grind to a halt.
But as restrictions are set to ease, the talk of “travel bubbles” between different countries and different Australian states could be “a good way to kickstart the industry again”, Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway told Yahoo News Australia.
“It’s a way of allowing travel within a controlled way, while letting the tourism, hospitality and airline industries to start moving again. It also allows safety procedures to be tested for when international travel opens up more widely.”
The trans-Tasman travel bubble
Although there are still international travel restrictions, Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern are in agreement the trans-Tasman bubble could work, and there are several good reasons to try to make it happen.
“Trans-Tasman travel accounts for about three million people, so there’s a good economic driver behind it,” Mr Westaway said.
“It’s also an easy flight path to manage and both countries are controlling their COVID-19 cases well at the moment, so the travel industry is very enthusiastic about it happening.”
When might the trans-Tasman bubble start?
Scott Morrison had suggested it could be part of the third step of restrictions easing, which should take place in early July, but there are calls from the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) to fast-track the decision, in order to kickstart economic recovery, and so the New Zealand ski season can gain some business.
Which routes would be available?
It’s likely the first routes would be between either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and Auckland or Christchurch, Mr Westaway speculates.
“These are already well-established routes and these cities have the most progressive airports, so health and safety checks would be easier,” he said.
How would social distancing and health checks work?
“Health and safety checks would have to be consistent at both ‘ends’ of the bubble,” Mr Westaway said.
“That means health screenings at the airport, and other social distancing regulations. If there is a leak, the process won’t work, so it has to be consistent in both places.”
Although there had been speculation that social distancing would be enforced on planes, Qantas and Jetstar have said they won’t keep seats empty on planes when they start domestic flights again in June.
Instead, there will be contactless check-ins, self-serve bag drops, hand-sanitising stations at departure gates and increased social distancing in lounges.
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we’re putting in place will reduce the risk even further,” Qantas Group medical director Dr Ian Hosegood said.
The Pacific bubble
There are increasing calls for the Pacific Islands to be welcomed into the trans-Tasman bubble.
Fiji, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands have all expressed an interest in being part of a ‘Pacific bubble’ if coronavirus rates remain controlled in Australia and New Zealand.
Smaller nations such as Tonga, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands are less interested, as they are worried about their fragile healthcare systems.
Would the Pacific bubble work?
“There’s no reason why a Pacific bubble shouldn’t happen in parallel with the trans-Tasman bubble, as so many of the Pacific islands have had no or very low rates of COVID-19,” Mr Westaway said.
“However, there is less of an economic driver to push this forward. The traffic would be likely one-way, so Australian tourism wouldn’t benefit in the same way as it would from a trans-Tasman bubble. However, it would be good for the airline industry.”
When might it happen?
If a Pacific bubble does open up, it doesn’t look like it will be imminent.
“New Zealand is keen to reopen borders with its Pacific island neighbours but not just yet,” Jacinda Ardern has said.
Could there be travel bubbles between Australian states and territories?
There are still domestic travel restrictions, although NSW, Victoria and the ACT haven’t closed their borders.
Leaders in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have all said they don’t want to risk opening their borders too soon, despite Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham urging them to do so in order to stimulate domestic travel.
This has led to some business leaders calling for a bubble between the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.
How would it work?
There is speculation there could be a bubble involving Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.
“I could see that happening before NSW and Victoria,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
“But that’s a matter for the premiers there as well.”
It doesn’t bode well for people from NSW or Victoria wanting to visit Queensland though as Ms Palaszczuk says she wouldn’t consider opening borders at the end of May as originally discussed.
“I would say that things would look more positive towards September,” she said.
However, Qantas is now taking domestic bookings for flights between June 12 and October 31, something which Mr Westaway believes could force Queensland’s hand in opening borders.
“If Queensland is closed, then Qantas will fly elsewhere,” he said.
Could intrastate travel bubbles work?
“This is happening in some states already in terms of road travel and once domestic flights start again, each state will essentially have its own bubble,” Mr Westaway said.
In Queensland you’re allowed to travel within 150km of your home or 500km if you live in the outback.
Regional travel has been allowed within the Northern Territory since May 1 and in South Australia since May 11.
Western Australia is allowing some travel within the state. Meanwhile regional travel within NSW will resume on June 1. But Victoria has not set a date for intrastate travel to resume.
When intrastate and domestic flights start again, there will be challenges for the industry, Mr Westaway said.
“The airline industry will need to convince people that it is safe to travel. That means having well-thought out plans and then communicating them well, so people know it’s safe to fly,” he said.
Are there any other travel bubbles in the world?
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have established the first European travel bubble, and there are suggestions that China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau may end up forming a bubble too.
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