Brent Thomas: Fixing the MIQ booking system

The Government has made some much-needed changes to the MIQ booking system after the original system, heavily criticised for its ad hoc approach, was deemed unfit for purpose.

There is no doubt that these changes have been an improvement when it comes to fairness – the Government has said the new system will put an end to everyday punters having to beat bots for a coveted space – but with at least 25,000 people hoping for a spot, many people will still be left out in the cold.

Read more: Queue for ‘virtual lobby’ MIQ booking system tops 22,000

It’s clear that the supply falls woefully short of demand, but even with the capacity there currently is, it has been suggested that it is significantly underutilised. This could be a result of a number of factors, but most likely due to the way the system is set up.

As it currently operates, each individual applies for their own spot in a system that doesn’t have any form of categorisation or grouping; it is simply luck as to whether they will be let into the booking system from the “lobby”.

Once into the system, the onus is then on the individual to have done their due diligence; they need to know exactly what their flight options are, and if there is space on said route, so they can ensure their MIQ booking lines up with when the airline will get them into the country. If one books out before the other, they’ll likely need to forfeit the piece of the puzzle they had managed to book in.

Hesitate at your peril.

Outside of bringing more MIQ facilities on board, there is a simple solution to streamline this process that would create greater efficiencies in capacity, support Kiwis trying to come home and relieve some of the pain points – contract the booking system to travel agents.

Travel agents are experts at exactly this – making complicated bookings. Every day, travel agents use Global Distribution Systems (GDS) which, simply put, are computerised network systems that enable live inventory data (who has what available, when) across different suppliers to be consolidated and presented to agents, who can then make the best booking for the customer. These systems could easily be adapted for the MIQ process.

These issues could be mitigated through a GDS system where there are not only are efficiencies in capacity, but it would also have other benefits.

The lobby system does not solve the humanitarian travel issue, or improve options for people who need to travel at specific times for family events when there are limited spaces granted through the lobby.

Many of these people have faced 18 months of separation from family and friends and could conceivably go through several months more before borders open in a meaningful way.

Without a road map from the Government on when we can expect borders to open to different parts of the world, we need to do better by this group.

The current system also leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to solving businesses’ issues, such as getting key talent into New Zealand or in instances where importers and exporters need to get to key suppliers and customers – particularly when there are supply chain issues.

This is having a material impact on the ability of businesses to run efficiently and effectively, and if we want the economy to be well placed for recovery over the coming years, this is a gap that can’t wait.

Businesses have been calling out for a better way of doing things for months; if the rest of the world has commenced doing business face to face, New Zealand risks being left behind.

In addition, the GDS system can then ringfence occupancy for different reasons for travel. This would allow apples to be compared with apples, rather than a full round of MIQ spots being occupied by oranges by sheer luck of the lobby system.

Covid-19 has changed the status quo for many industries, and travel is no exception. While many travellers had moved away from visiting travel agents in brick and mortar stores to booking themselves online, agents are seeing a resurgence in customers and their expertise being recognised for what it is – invaluable.

Indeed, many Kiwis trying to return home have been turning to their travel agents for advice, support and help. Let’s put that expertise to use.

• Brent Thomas, chair of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand, as well as chief operating officer with House of Travel.

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