Australia and New Zealand are planning a “travel bubble”, or corridor, that will allow the quarantine-free flow of people between the two neighbours.
Both countries have severely restricted international travel to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, if successful, the “bubble” could grow to include more countries that have a low number of cases.
A wider scheme is planned with Canada and other Asian economies to help supply chains and business travel.
The governments of Australia and New Zealand revealed their plans on Tuesday to set up a “trans-Tasman travel bubble”, although no timeframe was given.
This quarantine-free travel zone could provide huge advantages to both nations, who have shown strong records for containing the virus. Currently, they impose a 14-day quarantine on international arrivals.
“The broader reality is the global travel market is in a very bad way. In our part of the world and around the trans-Tasman route it makes clear sense that a travel bubble can work in our neck of the woods,” said Simon Westaway, executive director at the Australian Tourism Industry Council.
Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, wants to start using the travel bubble once domestic flights across Australia are resumed.
“It’s a positive we weren’t expecting up till now and hopefully it can be established as a model to open part by part the international network when various countries have a control on Covid-19,” said the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce.
According to Mr Joyce, New Zealand is the second-largest source of tourists heading into Australia, while Australia is the largest source of tourists for New Zealand.
He said it would give people in Australia a destination “that they’re comfortable flying to”, and vice versa.
Mr Joyce hopes the travel bubble can be extended to more countries if successful.
“If the New Zealand bubble idea gets traction and that we’re comfortable with that and that seems like it’s working well, then a similar approach could be done with markets where countries have Covid-19 under control.”
Chris Roberts, chief executive of New Zealand’s tourist board Tourism Industry Aotearoa, said it needed the correct health safeguards and the best use of technology to work.
“If New Zealand and Australia can show this can work, then it is likely to be adopted elsewhere. It could be 12-18 months before we return to open borders.”
Mr Roberts hopes the travel bubble will include its Pacific Island neighbours as they are heavily dependent on tourism. After that “New Zealand would likely look to places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and South Korea which are doing well in the fight against Covid-19 as the next places to re-establish links with”.
Australia and New Zealand are also involved in a larger “trade bubble” looking to agree guidelines for essential business travel. The wider group includes Canada, South Korea and Singapore.
The group’s aim is to resume the flow of goods, services and key people. The plan includes “guidelines to allow, on an exceptional basis, essential cross-border travel for purposes such as maintaining global supply chains, including essential business travel,” according to a joint statement.
The countries also want a fast-tracking customs procedure on essential items such as food and medical supplies, and to restart logistics networks across air, sea and land freight.