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New Covid-19 cases deflating Australia, Pacific bubble ideas

Jun 24, 2020

Tourism operators fear any further delays to trans-Tasman and Pacific bubbles could be the nail in the coffin for the industry.

With 10 active cases and quarantine botch-ups, it could be months yet before Australian and Pacific visitors are allowed in.

Meanwhile, Australian Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has warned its border will mostly likely be locked down until 2021.

That has businesses feeling nervous.

For Skyline - an adventure tourism business in Queenstown and Rotorua - the weekdays are the hardest.

Locals are visiting in the weekends and school holidays, but in between the luges and gondolas are quiet.

Skyline chief executive Geoff McDonald said 80 percent of the Queenstown site's visitors were typically from overseas.

"People will come out and support the tourism industry but with a population of five million, there's only so many times people will do something. As the timeline stretches out to getting an effective international travel bubble, it becomes more of a challenge," he said.

McDonald said the wage subsidy had been effective, and he's waiting to see how the $400 million tourism fund will be divided.

But the most important question remains.

"Will our government and other governments around the world be prepared to say 'we're at a point where we're not going to completely eliminate Covid but we can get it to a level that's manageable that will allow us to re-introduce international travel'. It's a big, tough call," McDonald said.

Motel group Assure is just getting by with a few people staying in its units across the country.

With 45 percent of customers typically coming from overseas, its managing director Doug Robinson wants the border to reopen.

"You can keep throwing money at these things but that's not the answer, you've got to have some tangible way of getting business back up and going again.

"I don't see that's going to happen in the near future anyway," Robinson said.

Trent Yeo runs Ziptreck Ecotours in Queenstown.

While he has taken a hit from the closed borders, he has learned to adapt, including hiring out his grounds for a music event.

Anyone who relied solely on an overseas market in a post-Covid world was kidding themselves, he said.

"I think we have to make sure we are pivoting towards our regions, our localities and our nation for travellers.

"We have to be able to create something that's interesting and creates high value for a very different market."

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Winston Peters floated the idea of New Zealand opening up bubbles with individual Australian states.

But with a surge of new Covid-19 cases in Victoria, states are clamping down on their efforts to keep the virus out.

ABC's Casey Briggs said state premiers were watching what's happening in Victoria very closely.

"Several states have now said 'we will wait and see'. The borders question is a fraught one in Australia at the moment."

The Pacific is in a similar boat. Despite initial interest in a bubble, both the Cook Islands and Samoa have lost some enthusiasm, in the wake of new Covid-19 cases here.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama Photo: Supplied/Fiji govt

Fiji has suggested a 'bula-bubble' with New Zealand, but with mandatory two week quarantine on both sides of the trip, it's hard to see how it will be attractive to travellers.

National Party leader Todd Muller said the criteria for opening up the borders should be made public to tourism operators and to Pacific nations like Fiji.

"They have been without a Covid case for many, many weeks now," Muller said.

"They are, I'm sure, putting huge pressure on New Zealand and Australia to be innovative in the way holiday travel could be opened up to that market."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was talking with Pacific nations.

"Fiji are in a position where they have seen lower numbers than others but they haven't been entirely Covid free though.

"The border remains the biggest vulnerability so it's the area where we will be the most cautious. I have nothing further to say on bubbles at the moment."

There could be a huge health cost if bubbles are opened up too early without proper processes in place, Ardern said.

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