Northern Territory locals have welcomed the news that they could expect visitors from across the Tasman within a fortnight, although Territorians will have to wait a little longer to return the favour and visit New Zealand.
But for Neil and Donna Linklater, Friday’s announcement was extra special.
“My mum’s family are in Christchurch, and it’s been hard for my mum to not be able to see her family. She’s in her 80s,” Ms Linklater said.
“It’s going to be a huge relief to see family. It will be wonderful. She will be very happy,” she said.
“We’d love to see the Kiwis here,” Mr Linklater said.
“We’re a little bit worried about international arrivals but not the Kiwis, we are lucky. We don’t want to lose it.”
The Australian and NZ Governments reached a deal on Friday that would see people allowed to travel from New Zealand to New South Wales and the NT quarantine-free with flights linking the two nations beginning in two weeks, on October 16.
However, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was still too early to let Australians into the nation of 5 million, meaning the travel will be one-way.
The Federal Government has said the deal is merely stage one in a more comprehensive travel bubble, which will slowly be rolled out according to international circumstances.
Travel bubble a ‘step’ towards NT ‘comeback’
Alex Bruce, CEO of Hospitality NT, said the industry had been fortunate to have so far weathered the coronavirus pandemic without the severe lockdowns experienced in Victoria, and the news would help create more jobs.
“It’s another positive step in the comeback of the Territory, it’s really good news. We’re looking forward to welcoming Sydneysiders and now we want to say kia ora to all of our New Zealand friends and family, we’d love them to come up and join us,” Mr Bruce said.
Hospitality NT estimated that the 2020 peak dry season only saw 10 to 15 per cent of the usual number of tourists coming to the NT, so the prospect of some arrivals from New Zealand was good news.
“Where we are, right now, we’re incredibly fortunate, we don’t take for granted the support of locals, and as we can start to get more tourists from safe places to come and join us up here in the territory, you’re going to see more jobs, you’re going to see more businesses recovering and we’re really excited.”
Mr Bruce said that in the past, before coronavirus, the NT had regularly attracted more than 10,000 visitors from New Zealand each year.
“The numbers I’ve seen are up to 13,000 travel to the territory in a year, so it’s not to be sniffed at and we’d love to say welcome, we’re safe, come and join us.”
Cavanagh Hotel operator Paul Palmer said the arrivals would be great for businesses who have experienced a downturn in customers.
“We trust the health advice we been given from the Government, chief health officer Hugh Heggie has been great for our industry,” Mr Palmer said
“I think New Zealanders, given their climate where they live, they want to come up to the tropics.”
“It’s fantastic, we’re the safest place in the country, there’s more and more opening up to us.”
‘We need to consider the mental health benefits’
Dr Robert Parker, Australian Medical Association NT president, said he welcomed the decision, on one condition.
“As long as there are no cases of community transmission in these travel bubble areas, then it’s a good idea, I think.
“We need to consider the benefits, from a mental health perspective, that this decision could bring. People having the ability to go on holiday or see loved ones. Would have a significant positive impact on their mental health, one would think,” Dr Parker said.
“You can’t put a price on hope.
“This is a good decision. We need to consider the mental health benefits.”
Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) chief executive John Paterson said the travel bubble would help remote clinics regain some of their workforce, with less than 10 per cent of staff coming from New Zealand.
AMSANT’s members will nevertheless take precautions, testing any New Zealanders who will work in remote areas.
“COVID restrictions certainly put strain on some of our clinics, given we had some of those tough border restrictions in place,” he said
“It was one of the gaps that COVID identified, a lack of surge workforce capacity.”
Qantas hints at ‘new’ New Zealand routes, could they include the NT?
Qantas said as more cities in Australia opened up, it would look to include new routes.
“As more cities in Australia open up, this is likely to include new routes direct from New Zealand that the Group has not previously offered, to make the most of the easing restrictions,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement.
“This first phase of a travel bubble with New Zealand is the best news the industry has had in months.”
“New Zealand was Australia’s second-biggest source of visitors before the pandemic. It’s obviously about to go straight to number one,” Mr Joyce said.
Qantas did not directly answer questions on whether it would be creating a direct route to New Zealand via a Northern Territory airport.
Darwin residents Neil and Donna Linklater said when they arrive, they will welcome Kiwis with open arms.
“I’d love to see the Kiwis here, beautiful people. They’re just like us. Enjoy beer, enjoy food,” said Neil Linklater.
Donna Linklater said although the thought of international arrival makes her anxious, New Zealanders have controlled their cases.
“I still believe the economy has to go forward. International travel was eventually going to happen, it has to happen,” she said.