Why There’s So Much More Travel Demand On The Australian Side Of The Trans-Tasman Bubble

Australia and New Zealand have launched a ‘travel bubble.’ That means citizens of either country are permitted to travel to the other, and then return home without a government-enforced quarantine. There is three times as much travel going from Australia to New Zealand as there is the other way around.

A reader asks why this is considered “lopsided” in media reports when there are 5 times as many people in Australia as there are in New Zealand?

What strikes me as interesting here is the claim that travel was roughly equal on each side of the transman bubble prior to the pandemic. You’d expect flights to be equally full on average, as people going also return home, but the suggestion is that as many New Zealanders used to travel to Australia as vice-versa despite having a population just one-fifth the size.

In addition to there being more New Zealanders living in Australia, looking to visit their home country, I’d point out that New Zealanders have been legally permitted to leave their country while Australians have had to seek special permission to do so and there are only a limited set of acceptable reasons.

New Zealand does require a stay in government quarantine on return, but there hasn’t been a blanket ban on foreign travel which Australians have faced. Australia has even had shifting restrictions on domestic travel across states, though often people living in a border zone between states have been able to obtain passes that allow them to travel back-and-forth (such as those on the Queensland-New South Wales border).

So it’s not surprising that a relatively large number of Australians would take advantage of finally being permitted to travel. Indeed, some Australians are using the opportunity to travel to New Zealand as a way of flying beyond that country.

  • Australians can leave the country and go to New Zealand
  • Once in New Zealand there are no restrictions on where they can fly
  • And then they can return home to Australia from a third country

Of course in order to return home they need to secure a flight and Australia is only accepting 6000 passengers a week because of limits on government-run quarantine facilities. The country’s Prime Minister is ‘hopeful’ of offering home quarantine during the second half of the year, though this may vary by state. And of course there’s risk not just of being able to get home due to quarantine limits, but that rules can change while they’re gone.

It’s hard to overstate how trying these rules have been. Personally as an American I’ve been unable to visit my family in Australia, and I have two new members of the family I’ve been unable to meet. In my family there’s a new grandmother who hasn’t been able to see her daughter in over a year or meet her granddaughter.

Restrictions have meant that during a portion of the pandemic my family in Sydney has had to drive 9 hours rather than fly to see family at the northern end of the state because available flights have been to airports across the state border. When travel between states has been permitted, there’s been risk of border closers from even a single locally acquired case of Covid-19.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well, NZ is touted as best practice in respect of COVID, and there’s no denying it has done very well. There is an apprehension that borders might close again with little or no notice: intensified when a border worker at Auckland airport tested positive within 24 hours of the bubble starting ( the first community case in months; likely acquired from a returned traveler from India).
    Perhaps Kiwis are more apprehensive: their government has been very quick to act on borders, and people wouldn’t want to get stuck. But Kiwis aren’t reluctant to visit Australia; after all , 1 million of them live in Australia ( ie, 20% of the NZ population)

  2. two countries living in government imposed fear over a virus with a 99.95% survival rate for people under 70.

    Panic Porn is alive and well!

    They deserve each other.

  3. If there are 5 Australians visiting New Zealand on each flight to New Zealand, and 3 New Zealanders visiting Australia on each flight to Australia, then that means there are 5 Australians and 3 New Zealanders on every flight, because both countries’ citizens eventually return home. It doesn’t matter which way the plane is going.

  4. We just wanna get on a plane using a dusted-off passport; don’t care where it is, just sick of not being ‘allowed’ to go anywhere.

  5. We don’t community transmission of covid here, and we don’t want anyone to bring it here. Our country has a history of mandatory quarantine and this has been used throughout our history. It may be unusual for Americans, but we like it our way in our country. Thanks.

  6. If New Zealand can have zero covid and permit their citizens to travel as they please, clearly they’re doing something right and better than the Aussies. I can’t imagine ever being trapped in my own country. Im surprised its even legal there. Even canada acknowledges it can’t legally stop its own people from traveling to america despite the land-border closure.

    Although i suppose Australia was founded as a penal colony, so maybe the being trapped in an island mentality is nothing new to them.

  7. Obviously both these countries are doing something right and their position is envianable to the rest of the world. However, the idea that it would be acceptable in Europe or America to shut everything down over one case just wouldn’t fly. Yes, I know that one case can and will multiple, but there zero cases shouldn’t be the goal at this point.

  8. [Police march back and forth in front on houses. People are forlornly staring out of the front windows, unable to leave. A desperate woman sneaks out of her front door, and is immediately tackled by six police officers.]

    Man with Heavy Australian Accent: “Lockdown.”

    [Shot of large can of Foster’s]

    Man with Heavy Australian Accent: “Beer.”

    Announcer: “Foster’s. Australian for beer.”

  9. Tim, I don’t think it’s fair to say Australia is nuts. They have good reason right now to want to restrict their citizens to New Zealand travel only, as they are one of the few countries with essentially no COVID community transmission and the number of vaccinated individuals in their population is negligible.

    I expect their travel bubble will slowly be broadened to allow travel to other countries with negligible levels of COVID (such as Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea) once they are sure it won’t cause problems. But for now I don’t blame them for wanting to play it safe.

  10. The problem with Australia’s response is that it hasn’t achieved better outcomes than NZ, Taiwan, and other countries in the region that have restricted returns without bans.

    I think for the most part there is scientific agreement that quarantines after travel are helpful to contain the spread of the virus. There is no such scientific agreement about banning travel. And there are MANY arguments against restricting Australian Citizens and residents the right to return home – likely illegal under international law.

    Australia has done admirably, but it’s no “gold standard” despite what the media and its grotesque politicians say.

  11. Joe, that’s a very fair point. If I was an Australian citizen who’d been stranded abroad for over a year because of my home country’s return policy, I’d honestly be investigating citizenship elsewhere at this point.

  12. @Joe
    While I fully concur about Australian politicians ( indeed, you are far too kind about them) , it’s simply untrue that NZ has had more accommodating policies in respect of travel, both out and in. They have not: they’re almost identical. Proportionately, there are just as many returning Kiwis stranded overseas as there are Australians. Similarly outbound travel has been virtually impossible. And it was NZ dragging its feet on the introduction of the Bubble with OZ, not the reverse.
    Jacinda Ardern gets remarkably good and sympathetic press, at least internationally…but that’s more in respect of her likability and compassion rather than anything.

  13. George said: “two countries living in government imposed fear over a virus with a 99.95% survival rate for people under 70. Panic Porn is alive and well!” I live in New York and all my relatives live either in New Zealand or Australia. I’m the one whose life has been severely constrained during the pandemic. When I talk to any of them, it’s life as usual – weddings, events, meeting friends, going out to restaurants, etc. None of them are scared at all of the virus, because it’s not circulating. So, shocker, George’s comment was more about his extreme political views than the reality on the ground in New Zealand and Australia. Must be nice to formulate opinions without any connection to, you know, facts.

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