“A great relief”: Travel agents welcome New Zealand-Australia travel bubble, but fears of snap restrictions remain

Managing Director of Spencer Travel Penny Spencer (middle). Source: Supplied.

Travel agents are relieved that New Zealand will allow Australian travellers to enter the country without hotel quarantine from April 19.

However, for Penny Spencer, the director of a group of corporate, entertainment and travel businesses, the relief comes with some anxiety, given state governments’ readiness to enforce snap restrictions.

“[The travel bubble] is a great relief, I’m very excited. We’ve been waiting for this for a while,” Spencer tells SmartCompany.

“But I think we’re all still nervous. What happened over Easter in Queensland made us realise that it’s not all over yet,” she says.

The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the travel bubble on Tuesday afternoon, saying the conditions for opening up quarantine-free travel with Australia had been met.

But Ardern also warned that travellers should beware of possible disruptions.

“Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware,” Ardern said.

“People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak.”

Since Ardern’s announcement, Spencer’s business, Spencer Group of Companies, has had a wave of clients call to enquire about trips over the ski season and the September school holidays since the travel bubble was announced.

“People are really wanting to get overseas and go somewhere different,” she says.

Travel bubble opens leisure and luxury travel

Spencer predicts that there will be a huge appetite among Australians to travel to New Zealand.

Not only have people managed to save money throughout COVID-19 due to the restrictions, domestic travel is also reaching capacity, she says.

“I think we’ve got to that point where Australia is booked out, in all areas. It’s not just in Cairns or Port Douglas. It’s even Orange and Mudgee.”

According to Spencer, the most popular travel bookings in New Zealand will be over the ski season that runs from July to late September and other luxury escapes across the country.

“Everyone is desperate to have a good ski season because, last year, our ski season was null and void,” she says.

“Luxury escapes will be popular. A lot of people are interested in lodges at places like Matakauri,” she says.

A call for no state border restrictions

Australians will be permitted to travel to New Zealand quarantine-free from from Monday, April 19 without having to apply for any travel exemptions due to the travel bubble.

New Zealanders can still come to every state and territory in Australia, excluding Western Australia, under the one-way travel bubble that was established last October.

Since state border restrictions eased, Spencer’s business has shifted from processing cancellations and refunds to organising amendments on behalf of clients.

“We’ve had clients saying ‘Queensland is shut, so can we amend a booking to a different date?’” she says.

“Staff are doing work that is not delighting them. Everyone loves to book a holiday and make people’s dreams come true, so it’s been a bit tough over the last year because we haven’t been doing that,” she says.

Overall, Spencer remains optimistic that the travel bubble will be a huge help to travel agents, who have been gravely affected by domestic and international travel restrictions since March last year.

“If we can keep the Australian borders open, hopefully that’s the end of all the awful refunding and credits,” she says.

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