Internal Affairs says about 400,000 passports expired over the past year with NZ border closed

Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs’ (DIA) says it anticipates about 400,000 passports have expired since the New Zealand border was closed as a result of Covid-19.

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Australian travel agents are seeing a big demand already. Source: 1 NEWS

The trans-Tasman bubble will open in less than two weeks on April 19 and already there’s been over a 400 per cent spike in online booking searches to Australia.

DIA’s GM Services and Access Julia Wootton told 1 NEWS there was an increase in interest in passports after the date of the travel bubble with Australia was announced yesterday.

“Daily sessions to which provides information about passports nearly tripled on the day of the announcement and daily sessions to the passports application website also almost tripled.” she said.

“The volume of passport applications was about 45 per cent higher on Tuesday 6 April compared to the same time the previous week.”

Wootton said the DIA is currently running a campaign to let customers know that their passport has expired.

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“This includes direct email and social media posts on the DIA Facebook page.”

Air New Zealand experiences surge in bookings 

It comes as Air New Zealand this afternoon announced “tens of thousands of Kiwis and Aussies” have booked flights across the Tasman in the hours after the bubble announcement.

“Naturally, April is shaping up to be the airline’s busiest month so far, with flights from Auckland-Sydney, Auckland-Brisbane and Christchurch-Melbourne on 19 April selling out fast. May is coming in at a close second,” Air NZ said in a statement to 1 NEWS.

CEO Greg Foran says he is “thrilled the airline can play a part in reuniting friends and whānau across the Tasman”.

“Auckland-Sydney was our most popular route yesterday, seeing the largest growth in bookings to date. We expect this is a mixture of friends and family making up for a year of missed milestones, and business travellers keen to get moving again.

“While a lot of Kiwis are heading across the ditch, there have been really strong bookings for Australians coming to check out New Zealand. Queenstown will see an influx of Aussies in July and September and we expect to see a bigger boost around the country for the July school holidays. It’s promising to be a busy ski season for the mountains.

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“We’ve certainly been looking forward to this moment for a few months now, so to finally have the bubble open is terrific. This will be a great boost for the New Zealand economy and tourism sector,” Foran said.

Currently around 190 aircrew are on furlough and around 368 aircrew have been brought back either from furlough or rehired in anticipation of a bubble and to meet domestic demand, an Air NZ spokesperson said today.

"The Tasman remains a competitive market and we want to ensure Air New Zealand pricing is reasonable and reflecting value received by our customers."

Business taking off for besieged Flight Centre 

David Coombes, Managing Director of Flight Centre NZ, told 1 NEWS the travel agency had a 435 per cent increase in online booking searches to Australia.

It comes after a difficult year for the business, which stood down 300 staff and closed 58 shops in April last year. About 230 staff were made redundant when the Government's wage subsidy scheme ended at the end of August. A further 160 jobs were cut in October and 23 more stores closed.

Coombes says yesterday's announcement was a long time coming. 

“It’s been over a year since we have been able to send Kiwis abroad quarantine-free, so the launch of a trans-Tasman bubble is very exciting news. This is something that customers have been asking for, for a long time,” he said.

“Currently, flights are on the more expensive side, but we expect to see these prices lower as certainty around a date leads to capacity increases and the market becoming more competitive.”

Coombes said there is no current insurance policy that will cover an extended stay for a customer in the case of a state-wide lockdown, but Flight Centre’s insurance provider CoverMore does offer cover for most other Covid-19 related disruptions including a customer or close contact contracting the virus.

However, its insurance would not cover costs incurred or expenses as a result of a government or public health authority mandatory quarantine or isolation order in relation to cross area, border, region or territory travel.