Business Insider: Sir John Key on when he thinks NZ’s borders will open again

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Former Prime Minister Sir John Key doesn’t expect international travel to return any time in 2021.

“2021 looks like it will be on a pretty similar path to 2020,” he told the Herald as part of a broader interview conducted two weeks ago.

“I think it will take a while for the borders to open and for us to be travelling.”

In the comments made before the latest community cases of Covid-19, Key noted that the vaccine was a promising development but added there was still complexity involved in rolling out an inoculation programme.

“It’s a difficult one,” he told the Herald.

“You have the challenges of getting the vaccine and then [having to ensure] the successful deployment of it. Resistance to Covid-19 is going to be key here.

Key said the new highly infectious variants had pushed things back and the current struggles in the UK and Europe showed how quickly things could change.

A former Minister of Tourism, Key noted the bigger question is how it might affect traveller behaviour in the longer term.

“I’m a bit mixed on that,” he admitted.

“Zoom calls and [communication] technology have been trends that have been around for a long time. This has accelerated some of that and there’s no doubt that some traditional companies, like ANZ which I’m involved with, have become much more comfortable with video technology.”

While the adoption of tech has led to a shift in the thinking at more traditional firms, Key doesn’t believe this will negate the need for travel in the future entirely.

“I don’t think it replaces the desire, hunger and benefits that people have of being in the same room as the fellow directors, workmates or their clients. I think we’ll have a mixture in the way we do things.

“I’m actually quite bullish for airlines over time. I think as soon as people get the opportunity to feel safe about travelling again, they’ll do it.

“It’s easy to be negative today, but the big trend prior to this was that the price points in travel were being reduced… I think when the world opens again safely, that will reinvigorate it.

“You saw it recently in New Zealand. As soon as people felt they could safely travel, they got on a plane and went to Queenstown, the Bay of Islands and wherever they wanted to. I think you’ll see the same internationally.

In the shorter term, Key expects travellers to be cautious, but says this will fade as the pandemic is brought under control through the vaccine programme.

Key anticipates that while pricing might be higher in the shorter term while demand builds from the ground up, he expects the willingness to travel to pick up relatively quickly.

“It’s a high-volume, low-margin business. It always has been,” he says, predicting a swift return of international travel.

“Does this really change anything? And the answer is no. I mean, there was a period of time when Asian travellers didn’t travel much because of Sars or bird flu, but as soon as they felt the crisis had been averted they got back on a plane.

“Obviously Covid-19 is at completely next level. It’s at a scale and significance which is hard to describe. But I honestly think the desire to travel will come again and with a vengeance.”

Key is among those who will be eager to do some international travel once the world opens up again. The current restrictions meant that he was able to make his annual escape to his home located in Hawaii.

So given it’s anyone’s guess when he might be able to return, is he planning to hold onto his spot on the island of Maui?

“We have a long-term love affair with that place,” he says.

“We’ve been there for the better part of 20 years… We might change the property, but we’ll have a property there for, hopefully, the rest of my adult life.”

In the meantime, however, he seems content to be in New Zealand rather than anywhere else in the world.

“We are so lucky in New Zealand, relative to what you see around the world. In many respects, we have a completely normal life other than the fact we can’t travel. So we should feel pretty blessed in that regard.”

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