Tourism firms and business groups want the government to get on and rubber stamp a travel bubble with Australia.

RNZ understands the plan is to have a safe travel zone in place between Australia and New Zealand in place by the end of April. When challenged on that date, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden refused to confirm or deny it, only going as far as to say that the bubble would be established "soon".

On Auckland's Queen Street, Vincent Beck said the bubble will help the economy and give people more freedom and normality.

"I love it. I'd say sign me up, probably should have had a little bit sooner, but better late than never...Who doesn't want to go travel? I'd love to go to the beach again in Australia,"

Another woman Stephanie agreed.

"I would 100 percent love the idea to be able to travel, go visit people, family, friends... At some point we're going to need to move on from this Covid. I think it's time now."

Benny Li owns two souvenir stores on Auckland's Queen Street. Having running the business for 25 years, he said he had never seen anything worse than the effect of Covid-19. The border closure meant he was closing one store in two weeks' time.

"We pay most expensive rental in New Zealand and we have zero international tourists... We wish to open up [the border], especially for the trans-Tasman bubble as soon as possible. I wish to be tomorrow," he said.

Sunny Chung, who works at another souvenir shop, also hoped the proposal could be put into effect shortly.

"We're desperate for a long, long time, especially in Queen Street. There is just no people here, so we're definitely looking for some tourists. We're a souvenir shop - who wants souvenirs if you live here?"

Chief executive of the Wayfare group of tourism and ski companies, Stephen England-Hall, said the prospect of Australian visitors was exciting. He said Australia was New Zealand's largest source of international travellers and a travel bubble could let some businesses at least double their revenue.

"One of the key advantages of getting a bubble working with Australia is an economic one, but actually, perhaps more importantly, is reconnecting New Zealanders with their friends and family in Australia, many of whom haven't seen each other since the whole Covid crisis began.

"So we must remember there is a real social and mental health and wellbeing outcome of getting reconnected with our brothers and sisters across the Tasman," he said.

He said the sooner a decision is made, the better firms can prepare.

"From an industry perspective, which has been largely under the water for 12 months, there's issues like staffing and making sure that you've got sufficient supply side capacity to meet any new demand."

Michael Barnett, CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Barnett Photo: RNZ Pacific/Christine Rovoi

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said 1.5 million people traveled from Australia to New Zealand each year, including holidaymakers, those who visit family and friends and for work and study, and those visitors spent nearly $2.7 billion in the year to September 2019.

He said opening the border to Australia will give tourism and hospitality the greatest hope for survival in the next couple of years but warned it would not all be economically positive.

"The other side of the coin says that will some of those New Zealanders who would have travelled internally, will they take their business and take it to Australia?

"So there's a positive side and the possibility of a negative side of the border opening," he said.

"This is an opportunity for us to use all of the things that we've learned over the last 12 months to start a pilot with Australia and see if we can manage the movement of people between two borders and if we can do that, then we can look wider.

"All of those steps are an important part of getting back to normal."

Currently, Australia has allowed quarantine-free flights from New Zealand but Australians cannot travel to New Zealand without an exemption.

Definite start for bubble needed - Queenstown official

Queenstown is keen for a definite date for the trans-Tasman bubble to start so that businesses can plan for an Australian influx, Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes told Morning Report.

She said the town would be ready to handle Australian tourists if the government opened the border to them at the end of April, however, it could only deliver at about 60 percent capacity.

Dunedin City Council infrastructure and networks general manager Ruth Stokes helps install the new pump screen.

Ruth Stokes Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

It had lost a significant chunk of the workforce, especially in retail and hospitality, because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it would take time to get it up to full speed again.

Seventeen businesses have closed in the CBD and another half a dozen have gone into hibernation.

"Even the end of April will be a bridge too far for some people."

She said a recent meeting with Tourism Minister Stuart Nash gave her confidence that the direction the government is going is similar to what the town is pushing, and she is looking forward to hearing more details from him this morning.

"There are definitely businesses, really good businesses on the ground who are the heart of our community who need some support sooner rather than later."

When asked about criticism that the town was still pitching its prices at overseas tourists' level, she said people needed to appreciate that Queenstown was a very seasonal town.

"We have businesses who make all of their revenue for the year just in school holidays. It's very hard to manage a business and keep people employed for the whole year when you have spikes in your revenue."

There was also a need to make tourism more sustainable and environmentally friendly and that was a cost to businesses, and the town is also at a distance from most of the country which added to costs.

Prospects 'bleak' without Australians - tourism operator

Tourism operators say they are looking forward to hosting Australians again - especially over winter.

Paul Button from Canopy Tours in Rotorua said while Kiwis have been out in support, Australians were his business's second biggest market, and they were also a "weekday market" in contrast to New Zealanders who visit at weekends.

"Essentially it'd be the difference between going backwards every week to actually maintaining some profitability and keeping our noses in front - keeping our team employed."

Rotorua Canopy Tours general manager Paul Button.

Paul Button from Canopy Tours says Australians visit his business during the week in contrast to New Zealanders who are weekend users. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

If the travel bubble gets the green light, Button won't be adding to his staff of 24, he told Morning Report. The business has had just 60 customers so far this week. It had 600 at the same time last year so he had capacity for many more customers.

While some suppliers had reduced costs over the last year to help the business stay afloat, a lot of expenses were being applied again and without an influx of Australian visitors in the next six months prospects were bleak, Button said.

Darryl Wilson, from Wilsons Abel Tasman, said while it was a good summer with Kiwis exploring the national park, the return of Australians will be welcome.

Revenue was down 30 percent for day trips which were popular with Australians.

While every business needed to have some resilience built in to try and cope during difficult times, the current downturn was unprecedented.


https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/438684/business-community-wants-quick-decision-on-trans-tasman-bubble