Australia and New Zealand are currently in discussions over the possible expansion of their existing travel bubble arrangement to the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia, Tahiti and the Cook Islands.
According to Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, the federal governments of Australia and New Zealand are currently deliberating expanding the existing quarantine-free travel bubble to include the Pacific destinations.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison touched down in New Zealand late Sunday ahead of discussions with his NZ counterpart Jacinda Ardern at the Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum.
He later hinted to reporters that talks would include the expansion of the travel bubble to other countries in the Pacific, many of which are also largely COVID-free.
“We are very focused on supporting our Pacific family, and the idea of a bubble that goes beyond New Zealand and Australia is a real possibility,” PM Morrison said.
He acknowledged that Fiji, a popular destination for Australian tourists, was currently going through a “difficult time”, as it battles a recent outbreak following months of being COVID-free, however said that Australia was supporting the nation.
It is unclear when the expanded travel bubble could be introduced, or exactly what destinations would be included.
Minister Tehan said the introduction of new destinations to the Australia/New Zealand travel bubble would be a “great signal of confidence that the bubbles can work”.
“Obviously we are going to have to monitor what is occurring in our region and to see if there are future opportunities,” he said.
However, Minister Tehan said that a further expansion of the travel bubble will likely be reliant on more Australians stepping up to be vaccinated, and welcomed both businesses and government introducing additional incentives to drive up vaccination rates.
On Monday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce announced a slew of new incentives for customers who get vaccinated, including the offering of unlimited free flights for a year for big-prize winners, on top of frequent flyer points and travel vouchers.
Australia and New Zealand launched the two-way travel bubble between the two major nations on 19 April, however New Zealand has paused flights into multiple Australian states a number of times due to cluster outbreaks.
Most recently, last week New Zealand paused the trans-Tasman bubble with Victoria for at least 72 hours after the state’s new COVID cluster grew overnight to nine cases.
The country’s minister in charge of responding to the virus said the decision was a “close call” but the correct one given many unknowns about the outbreak remain.
The pause on Victorian flights is yet to be lifted, as the cluster has now hit 54 cases.
The news also comes two weeks after New Zealand opened its two-way quarantine-free travel bubble with the Cook Islands.
Air New Zealand will now operate two to three return flights a week to Rarotonga, before increasing to daily trips from July.
Auckland Airport general manager Scott Tasker said the Cook Islands are the airline’s second biggest Pacific island travel market behind Fiji.
“It will be a great kick-start for the Cook Islands economy, which is very reliant on international visitors with more than 60 per cent of GDP linked to tourism. And it comes in time for the traditional mid-winter peak period for New Zealanders travelling to the islands,” said Tasker.