Christmas in Australia, New Year in New Zealand – is it possible?

Simon Calder
·5-min read
Sydney will be one of the host cities of the 2023 World Cup: Getty Images
Sydney will be one of the host cities of the 2023 World Cup: Getty Images

With just 150 days remaining until the end of 2020, many prospective travellers will be wondering if their once-in-a-lifetime (or annual) trip to escape the northern winter will be feasible?

These are the key questions and answers.

Can I go to Australia or New Zealand now, if I agree to quarantine on arrival?

No, unless you are in one of a tightly defined list of categories. The best position to be in is to be a citizen or permanent resident, or an immediate family member of one.

Both countries have long-established strict border controls, exploiting their status as distant islands, and both are very keen to protect the health of the people against the spread of coronavirus.

There is no clarity on when any decisions on the international borders will be made, let alone what changes may be introduced.

Relaxation of restrictions will depend on a wide range of unknowns, including:

  • infection rates worldwide and in the prospective traveller’s country.

  • the development and availability of a vaccine.

  • propensity to open borders in order to stimulate the economy and protect jobs.

The last is the one most within the control of the governments in Canberra and Wellington, but currently neither Australia nor New Zealand will want to risk importing cases of coronavirus by allowing unfettered access.

Tourism Australia’s managing director, Philippa Harrison, said: “International travel has effectively been at a standstill since Australia announced the closure of its borders on 20 March 2020.

“Attracting international travellers will form a critical part of the tourism restart and recovery in Australia, but will likely be further down the track.

“We just don’t know when international restrictions will start to be lifted, nor how the process of restoring international travel will play out. But we will be ready to go back when the time is right.”

Haydn Wrath, managing director of the tailor-made specialist company, Travel Nation, is currently in Nelson on the North Island of New Zealand.

“There is divided opinion here between people concerned about the huge social and economic impact of long-term isolation who want to redefine what success in managing Covid 19 looks like – eradication vs manageable risk – and of course others who are happy to sit it out.

Though a large chunk of the Australia and New Zealand’s economies are derived from inbound tourism, they have so far been relatively lucky as the travel restrictions started at around the same time as the peak season was trailing off.

“Pressure to open borders and allow visitor in will naturally mount as the southern hemisphere summer starts in the next couple of months.”

Does that mean a midwinter visit may be possible?

Australia has little immediate prospect of eradication, and therefore it may set up bilateral travel agreements with relatively coronavirus-free European countries, such as Germany, Greece and Italy. There are especially strong cultural ties with the last two.

The global giant, Trailfinders, has cancelled clients’ holidays to both Australia and New Zealand for departures to the end of October 2020.

But Nikki Davies of Trailfinders remains positive: “We continue to be optimistic that both destinations will open up before the end of the year and an internationally recognised testing facility would be the answer.

“If regular testing pre- and post-travel was introduced, then we see no reason why destinations couldn’t open more quickly.”

For New Zealand, if there is sufficient confidence in the robustness of 14-day quarantine on arrival and testing procedures, dedicated visitors may be permitted if they are prepared to undergo the rigorous arrivals protocol.

“Since this procedure is now well established, and little teething problems such as people sneaking out to the liquor store have been addressed. I see an opportunity for the New Zealand government to allow non-resident visitors to do the same if they are willing to pay for the privilege,” says Haydn Wrath.

“The fact that this wouldn’t appeal to most would make it more appealing to a few with a prize of ultra-low tourist numbers, a couple of months touring New Zealand – and escaping not only the UK winter but all Covid-19 precautions and relishing ‘normal life’ in a modern day Noah’s Ark.

“For now, it is really anyone’s guess. Most in the business agree that whilst Australia and New Zealand are definitely in ‘wait and see’ mode. For sure nothing will be decided in New Zealand until after the general election on 19 September.”

What will happen to flight options and air fares?

Qantas says: “All scheduled international flights, including flights between Australia and New Zealand, are suspended until at least the end of October 2020, due to government restrictions.

“We haven’t made a decision to cancel international flights after October 2020.”

However, the Australian national carrier is showing no availability on flights from the UK until the very end of March 2021, which may give an indication of how it expects the next few months to evolve.

Tim Jeans, former managing director of Monarch, says he believes the Australasian market may recover sooner than many people think.

“While beach resorts in the Mediterranean may take a decade to recover to 2019 levels, there will be an appetite for people to go long haul,” he says.

“Partly that is driven by the understandable desire to visit friends and relations, but there is also a latent demand for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trips.”

In terms of fares, New Zealand and, in particular, Australia, have long offered some of the lowest price-per-mile rates in the world on routes from the UK – with sub-£500 return tickets sometimes available on airlines based in mainland China.

Even premier-league airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Emirates have offers extremely competitive fares. But Mr Jeans says: “If you’re flying people who are non-discretionary then you don’t have to offer them fares of £700.”

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