The transtasman bubble proposal should be progressed once the Covid-19 flareup in Australia is under control. That is the message from New Zealand's top CEOs in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey.
The result was overwhelming — 94 per cent of respondents are in favour, 5 per cent are unsure. Just 1 per cent of respondents say we shouldn't continue to progress the initiative.
CEOs placed myriad caveats — "only when safe", "define 'under control'", "risk must be minimal before relaxing".
"It's something we should keep a watching brief on," says a tech entrepreneur. "Nothing in Australia gives me confidence in their capabilities to contain."
Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos asks: "The question is what does under control mean? At one stage Victoria was considered under control."
"The latest outbreaks seem to show this is less likely and riskier than first envisaged," says Chapman Tripp chief executive partner Nick Wells.
Some CEOs say we shouldn't be progressing until there is no community transmission on both sides of the Tasman.
"We need zero community transmission in each country and rapid tracing technology that crosses borders to even be considered," says a dairy industry boss. "Rapid testing may have a role to play when and if it becomes available."
But others are amenable to travel with cases present in the community — so long as steps are taken to ensure the risk remains low.
"Progress on pandemic management and the use of technology can both be used to provide a quarantine-free system for travel with selected countries," says Beca CEO Greg Lowe. "We just need to get on with solving the technical challenges so we can implement when the health settings are right.
No one wants to be unsafe, but we do need to have a plan."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is working on a "hotspot" model that would not necessarily require zero transmission. He said this could also extend to Covid-free parts of New Zealand.
Morrison said all states and territories except for Western Australia had agreed to an update of the roadmap to recovery, with the goal to reopen their borders by Christmas. It will focus on testing regimes, data sharing and interstate borders — rather than issues like hospitality venue capacity.
Jacinda Ardern has said that — so far — Australia's hotspot model will not be reciprocated holus-bolus. "Ultimately, for the hotspot arrangement, it doesn't change the work that we're doing on the bubble which is focused on putting New Zealand and Australia in the position to have quarantine-free on both sides of the Tasman. Right now though, neither country is in a position to offer that in its entirety because it's just not safe. "If a New Zealander chooses to go to Australia because there is no quarantine, they will know that they'll be covering the cost of their quarantine on return to New Zealand."
Back in May when a travel bubble with Australia looked promising, the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group was established, co-ordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum.
The group — made up of 11 government agencies, six airports, two airlines, health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both Australia and New Zealand — submitted a blueprint for transtasman travel to both governments with the objective of removing the need for quarantine.
Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood was part of the effort, and said at the time "New Zealand and Australia have a great opportunity to really set some potential standards for travel restarting around the world."
Its original aim was to have the bubble operational and flying by the July school holidays.
Prior to the Covid crisis, New Zealand was the most popular outbound travel destination for Australians, with 1.5 million visitors arriving from Australia in 2019, accounting for 40 per cent of all foreign visitors to New Zealand. Australia was the most popular outbound travel destination for Kiwis.
New Zealand is Australia's second largest source market for visitors, with 1.4 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 15 per cent of total visitors to Australia.
Unsurprisingly, a travel industry CEO is supportive: "It absolutely should be progressed — our economies and social structures are too intertwined."
Chairman of the New Zealand Initiative Roger Partridge says the open border will be significant: "We all have an interest in Australia succeeding and expanding our 'domestic' marketplace for tourism by an extra 20 million people."
Precinct Properties chair Craig Stobo reckons the industry should be innovative in its thinking. "We had 1.5 million Aussies come last year ... tourism will have to go for a high-margin value proposition — not a low value volume growth strategy as we have done in the past," he says.
Most CEOs agree quarantine-free travel across the Tasman is unlikely to happen soon.
"With the rate of community transmission and the time it will take to get this under control, we should not expect or depend on this opening up in the next three months," says marketing boss Anne Walsh.