The ministry in charge of MIQ is starting to suspend the accounts of some Kiwis using third-party voucher booking systems, but a site charging thousands of dollars for vouchers isn’t being punished.
But some sites that ask for users' login details in order to book them a voucher won’t be punished. A number of third-party voucher booking services have popped up around the globe in the past few months including freelancers on the app Fiverr, and a New Zealand-based site called MIQ Helpers.
The MIQ Helpers site tells users to create their own registration, and then the site can log on as the user. MIQ Helpers is currently charging $2590 per successful booking - the highest price on the market. But Acting Joint Head of Managed Isolation, Andrew Milne, says MIQ Helpers isn’t being punished.
Kiwi software developer Ben Morrison says it's “completely the wrong way around”.
“That's rough for the people who are about to be suspended. I suspect they didn't realise they were breaking a rule; I suspect they've booked their travel and are desperate to get back to New Zealand. If they're now going to be kicked out, that's going to be very hard for them.
“Punishing the user rather than the people that are profiting from these people just seems wrong… All these systems, including mine, popped up because MBIE wasn't doing a proper job.”
Another third-party provider, a freelancer in Egypt, told 1 NEWS it’s unfair to penalise those desperate enough to use third parties.
“I don’t ask for any certain amount… but they are willing to pay $100... some cases $500, another case $800….
He says while he doesn't charge "any certain amount", clients are willing to pay anywhere between $100 and $500 for a spot, with one customer paying $800 for a place.
"I don't think it's fair for them to get in trouble. You cannot ask someone to sit in front of their computers 24/7."
'It looked very legit'
MIQ says it is doing something about one third-party site which it refused to name.
One site that had been offering voucher bookings for $345 is now no longer operating.
Aucklander Angelina Vihrova had been in touch with those operating the site, but didn’t manage to secure a voucher for her parents who are New Zealand residents stuck in Moldova. The site knew her account details and asked her to click a link. After noticing some suspicious activity on her computer, she abandoned the process.
“They sent me a screenshot of the website. It looked very legit. I had to login into the site they sent me and put in all the details, my parents' names, passport details.
“I would recommend to people not to fall for the third parties. If you do use them, make sure they’re actually legit.”
'No silver bullet'
Aucklander Mike Moore says just wants to see the system fixed. He’s trying to get back to the UK to support his nieces and nephews after his brother took his own life. He’s already missed his brother’s funeral, but doesn’t want to book travel until he can secure a voucher for his return.
“I’ve been the go-to person for his children when times get tough, so the expectation was that I would be going over there.
“Right now I feel like I’m in a tunnel and there’s no end to it. My niece and nephew are going through their own traumas of trying to deal with loss of their father… They keep saying, 'When are you coming?' I’m almost scared to call them to break the bad news.”
He’s currently using a free script that scans the MIQ website hundreds of times a minute for an available date but still needs a human to fill in their details and book the voucher. After weeks of trying, he’s still no closer to getting a voucher, with available spots snapped up in milliseconds.
“We haven’t planned properly for what is a completely forecastable problem… It’s going to get, in my view, significantly worse. We need a clear forecast of what capacity’s going to look like so people can make proper plans. I think there needs to be some level of tiering that says, outside of emergency, 'is there some other level of compassionate reason for travel?'”
Moore, a travel tech consultant by trade, says he’s shocked there’s still not a waitlist system in place.
“The notion that says ‘all you can do is keep checking the website’ assumes that you’ve got nothing better to do, that people’s time is unimportant.
“The reason the travel industry does waitlisting is because of what we call ‘unfulfilled demand’. Anyone can tell something is busy when it’s full. The question is not whether it’s busy, but how much more demand is there which is currently not being fulfilled, because then you know how deep the problem is. If you have no waitlist you don’t have any of that.”
Milne says a waitlist could cause problems too.
“A waitlist is something that is under consideration but it is extremely complex, and would present other challenges… It is not a silver bullet.”
He says one of the challenges involved is that it "would not guarantee people vouchers, it would only save their place in a queue".
"People might have thousands of people ahead of them in a queue, with little chance of securing a voucher - this is likely to be the outcome from one massive waitlist, or even a waitlist by month or date. There is also a lot of complexity in how to manage travellers who are flexible with dates and those needing specific dates.
“Signing up to a waitlist - no matter how it is organised - is also based on a 'first in, first served' model and will penalise those who are unable to access the waitlist at the time they need to. Such an approach will not make the system any more fair or equitable.”
Have you used a third-party MIQ voucher booking service? Email our reporter Kristin Hall on firstname.lastname@example.org