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The Elephant in the Departure Lounge

Fine Travel was recently invited to comment on the state of the travel industry and its recover in the Covisory Partners eMagazine Covisory Connect. Nigel Smith of Covisory Partners has previously contributed to the Fine Travel blog with his article on ensuring your affairs are in order before travelling overseas.

The dramatic bursting of the entire Australian travel bubble and the rapid spread of the more infectious Covid-19 Delta variant has reinforced that there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before a framework for quarantine free international travel is established for New Zealanders.  As our vaccination program progresses, we look ahead to what international travel may look like through the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.

The Elephant in the Departure Lounge

Compulsory 14-day managed isolation for travellers returning from overseas (other than when Australia and the Cook Islands travel bubbles are in place), regardless of their vaccination status remains the elephant in the room.  Since Covid-19 vaccines were developed, we have been looking forward to a road map for the staged reopening of New Zealand’s borders.

There’s a growing expectation amongst vaccinated travellers wanting to reconnect with family overseas that at a minimum they should be allowed to quarantine at home on their return.  Although the government has expressed that it is watching the IATA Travel Pass trial with interest, and that the Ministry of Health is working on the medical advice to inform the border policy, we’ve yet to see a definitive plan [subsequent to this article the New Zealand government expects to release some guidance in August 2021).

Managing Complexity Across Borders

For New Zealanders who must travel in the current environment, issues such as applying multi-country border restrictions (origin country / transit country / destination), pre-departure Covid testing requirements, recognition of vaccination status and individual airline protocols creates uncertainty.  And as countries react to new Covid variants, the protocols in place when a flight was booked may have changed by the time the flight departs.

Examples we have seen of this uncertainty include a vaccinated New Zealand passenger flying to Europe.  Under the airline’s policy, the transit country’s policy, and the destination countries policy the passenger was not required to obtain a negative Covid test before departing. Further investigation discovered that at the destination countries airport the airport manager had implemented a policy of only recognising EU issued vaccination certificates.  Therefore, although a pre-departure test in New Zealand was not technically required, one was practically needed to meet the protocols as they were being applied on the ground.

Will We See 2022 UK and Europe Earlybird Airfares?

Traditionally we expect the start of see discounted Business Class and Premium Economy airfares to the UK / Europe from August to align with the following year’s summer season (airlines only release availability for 11 months ahead).  As London is the most common destination for New Zealand travellers the UK’s traffic light system is likely to have a significant influence on whether we see Earlybird Airfares this year.

At the time of writing, Singapore is the only airline hub country on the UK’s Green List.  This results in Singapore Airlines’ passengers having significantly reduced UK arrival obligations (importantly no quarantine) and puts Singapore Airlines in a very strong market position relative to its main competitors in the New Zealand market.  Emirates and Qatar Airways are effectively on the Red List and Cathay Pacific is effectively on the amber list.

Greater demand for 2022 travel to the UK / Europe (driven by a New Zealand framework for reduced quarantine obligations for returning travellers) and greater competition (driven by more airline hub countries moving to the UK’s Green List) will likely determine whether we see will see discounted 2022 airfares to the UK and Europe (and London in particular) this year.

The Return of the Cruise Industry

One of the indelible memories of the pandemic will be passengers stranded on mega cruise ships and the rapid spread of Covid-19 onboard.  This resulted in ports being closed and a pause on almost all sailings that has continued until last month.

With our borders still effectively closed for international travel, and closed to cruise ships, we will have an opportunity to watch the return of the cruise industry and see the effectiveness of each cruise line’s response to Covid-19.  Requirements such as pre-departure testing, compulsory vaccination of all crew and guests, and improved air filtration technology are some of the responses that have been implemented – although not by all cruise lines.

We expect that the cruise holidays offered by the premium / luxury cruise lines, with smaller ships and fewer guests will be better placed to avoid Covid outbreaks.  For the New Zealand cruise market, we have seen increasing interest in small ship operators offering close to home itineraries (such as with Coral Expeditions to Australia’s Kimberley region) that are limited to vaccinated New Zealand and Australian guests.

Vaccinations and Variants

Although the formation of the travel bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands is a starting point for establishing the new travel norm, we remain in a state of limbo until vaccination rates increase and while Covid-19 continues to mutate and spread.  The work being undertaken by the Ministry of Health to inform the border policy is the important next step.

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