Auckland has been chosen as a host city an ambitious 'time travelling' music festival, which promises a week-long party, a charter flight and - not one but - two New Year's Eve parties. But with New Zealand's borders firmly shut, how certain can partygoers be that the trip will ever take off?
New Year's Twice is the brainchild of Singapore-based Anton Rimbau, who describes the festival as the "ultimate bucket list event."
By means of a chartered Boeing 787 and the 23 hour time difference, he aims to deliver around 300 revellers fresh from an Auckland New Years' party to Honolulu in time to bring in 2022, all over again.
"When people hear about it for the first time they are giggling almost," he says. "The traction we are getting is really big."
The attention is not undeserved. The festival which promises a week's partying at four-star resorts in Waikiki and flights to Hawaii, flies counter to everything we understand about post-pandemic travel – not just the International Date Line. It all seems too good to be true.
Charging between $6500 and $20000 for a 'VIP' ticket, there is only the briefest itinerary outlined by the festival. New Year's Twice has already been compared to the 2017 Fyre Festival scam, in which gullible festivalgoers paid for an exotic Bahamas holiday that never materialised.
New Year's Twice says its direct messages are full of concerned travellers, comparing the event organisers to Billy McFarland - who duped 5000 partygoers.
"We do empathise with people who have never heard of us before, asking if this is legit," says Rimbau, who initially found such comparisons funny.
"The Big difference with Fyre is in culture," he says. "We are acknowledging from the beginning that the world is in an extremely difficult situation, and that it is very difficult to predict what the situation will be 10 and a half months from now."
With New Zealand's borders remaining shut since March last year, New Year's Twice acknowledges there are some serious Covid 19 concerns surrounding not only travel but all aspects of organising large events.
Recent vaccine news has given Rimbau confidence that by the end of the year, it will be a very different picture.
"If it's too risky we will call off," he says. The event aims to make a final call on 30 September, as to go ahead or not. 'Time Travellers' – as guests are called – are being promised full refunds or money off next year's event. There will be a 2022-23 event, insists Rimbau, whatever happens this year.
"We want people to be able to make alternative plans and not to mess with peoples' New Years by calling it off at the last minute."
A modern Phileas Fogg?
Anton Rimbau's background isn't in travel or events management. However, the IT sales manager says he has spent the last five years jetting around out of Changi Airport.
Originally a native of Barcelona, the idea came to him one December while back home in Spain.
With a shared border and an hour's time difference, neighbouring Portugal greets the New Year 60-minutes after Spain.
"We could celebrate first in Spain, then take a cab 20 minutes later and celebrate again."
Despite this stroke of inspiration, the plan was a washout. Anton and friends never went across the border. Instead, he set his sights on a bigger goal and a larger time difference.
Like Phileas Fogg, flying West to East across the Pacific date line would give him a whole day to play with.
"I researched it and thought – if we partner with the right people, even though my background is not in this, we could pull it off."
If you were going to have two bites of the New Year's apple, you'd have thought Sydney was the obvious choice. However, the two hours lost in time difference and one more in the air disqualified it as a starting location.
"Sydney is of course famous for its New Year's celebrations next to the Opera House," says Rimbau, but the time difference made it unappealing compared to Auckland.
"Worst case scenario we'll be there 6pm but in reality we should be there sooner."
Linking the two urban hubs with populations of over 1 million is important to the event's success. If travel restrictions demand it, Rimbau says he will be able to fill the festival by selling only to New Zealanders.
"We need at least 150 people for the festival to go through. That is 99 per cent for sure not going to be an issue."
What does your $7000 ticket get you?
The Event Website which was registered on 30 December last year, gives little away in terms of itinerary. It includes flight times, "guided hikes, trips to remote beaches and town in Oahu, and [a] snorkelling trip" between 1-7 January, but it appears there's a lot still to organise.
The Herald has contacted New Year's Twice's partners organising plans on the ground.
In Hawaii, the festival is dealing with destination and event managers MC&A.
"MC&A is supporting New Year's Twice with private airport arrival and departure transportation and iconic Hawaiian activities for their guests," said a spokesperson for the company. The activities being organised will be "exclusively for the New Year's Twice guests" with the option to also purchase additional tours during their stay in Hawaii.
The company based out of Honolulu is one of the US's largest, with previous clients including cruise lines and boutique festivals. An event for 300 travellers should be no issue, providing they can get there.
"As the vaccine rollout continues here in Hawaii and world-wide, MC&A is confident that guests can have a safe, one of a kind experience in Hawaii," a spokesperson told the Herald.
On this side of the Pacific, things will be a little less exclusive.
The event has partnered with Auckland's annual Upside Downtown celebrations, run out of clubs in Auckland CBD, including Impala on Shortland Street. New Year's Twice tickets would include entry to this public event.
In previous years tickets to Upside Downtown have cost under $80.
"The club looked really cool, we spoke to Impala they're really cool guys," said Rimbau. "It's downtown, close to the hotels and we can take off for the airport quickly."
Finally there is the question of cover for guests in the event that New Year's Twice is cancelled. The ticketing partner Festiticket does not handle refunds from cancellations, it is not yet clear who is underwriting costs, should they have to pull the plug in September.
"It won't be spent, so it'll be easy for us to return it," was Rimbau's reassurance to ticketholders.
"The risk of losing a deposit is something we're willing to take as the price for trust when it goes ahead."
MBIE's Consumer Protection advises New Zealanders to do their homework before sending money to overseas businesses "even if the offer looks genuine."
"When it comes to transacting overseas it can be more difficult to enforce your consumer rights if things go wrong," says Mark Hollingsworth, national manager for MBIE Consumer Protection. "It can be harder to bring disputes to a tribunal or court and enforce judgements."
With regard to overseas travel, Hollingsworth advises New Zealanders to read the terms and conditions of any flights before parting with money - especially in the current climate.
At this moment in time there are so many variables in play. If you were to place a wager the odds of reliable international travel resuming by year's end look slim, even 10 months out.
However, in the words of his fictional time travelling predecessor and gambling man, Phileas Fogg:
"The chance which now seems lost may present itself at the last moment."