Sunshine Coast tourism operators are banking on a Kiwi comeback this winter amid signs that a travel bubble with New Zealand has not brought any infections to Australia.
New Zealand is the Sunshine Coast’s number one international source market, with direct flights bringing some 84,000 Kiwis in the 12 months before COVID.
“Given the Kiwi’s have not been able to travel overseas for coming up to 12 months there is likely to be significant demand when borders reopen,” Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel said.
“It’s a great opportunity for the Sunshine Coast, as our product is a great fit for the New Zealand market.
“As we come out of our peak summer period, there will of course be plenty of accommodation capacity for the market.”
It comes as the latest Tourism Research Australia figures show a boom in the Sunshine Coast’s drive market was not enough to offset the overall loss of interstate and overseas travellers.
Total visitor numbers fell 20 per cent in the year to September 2020, when there was a lockdown and state borders were closed, compared to the same time in 2019.
That was 3.186 million visitors to the Sunshine Coast, compared to 3.973 million in the same period before the pandemic.
However hoards more Queenslanders opted for a Sunshine Coast holiday which helped insulate the decline.
The TRA data reveals there was a 39.7 per cent increase in Queensland visitors – equating to 837,000 intrastate visitors compared to 599,000 for the same quarter in 2019.
Since the global pandemic shut down international tourism, the Sunshine Coast has relied almost exclusively on Queensland visitors, in particular the 3 million residents within a 300km radius of the Coast.
“While Covid-19 had a severe impact on overall visitor numbers for the quarter, the Sunshine Coast’s intrastate drive-market campaigns shielded the region from a larger fall,” Mr Stoeckel said.
“It’s encouraging to hear that many of our Sunshine Coast operators have also enjoyed a strong summer period, with some operators even reporting above-forecast results for the period.”
Mr Stoeckl said the potential for incoming New Zealanders in winter would be a great opportunity.
Sunshine Coast Airport hopes to resume quarantine-free flights in both directions but that will require an agreement between Australian and New Zealand governments.
“We’re currently in discussions with Air New Zealand about bringing services back to the Sunshine Coast as soon as we can after travel restrictions are lifted, as Kiwis are our largest international market here on the Sunshine Coast,” said spokesperson Ayllie White.
Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the travel bubble with New Zealand had proven international travel could be done safely.
“We have had many tens of thousands of people who have come across the ditch in the last few months – not a single (positive coronavirus) case,” Professor Kelly said.
“That’s a very strong indication of that approach and we have done similar country risk assessments in a very detailed way for many of the Pacific islands.”
He said despite no other suitable country yet being found for a travel bubble “there are some that are very low risk and that is playing into discussions about how people from some of those countries should be quarantined to make sure it is safe”.