There’s no quick fix for a booking system people are finding impossible to use, according to the head of MIQ, who denies any problem with the system itself

The joint head of MIQ has responded to allegations the booking system is broken, saying a current high demand for rooms explains the difficulties travellers have had trying to lock down a spot.

Speaking from Parliament on Wednesday, joint head of MIQ Megan Main said high demand had put pressure on the room allocation system for the 31 MIQ facilities across New Zealand – although the Government was looking for a solution.

“This isn’t a systems problem so much as a demand versus supply problem. Right now, the demand is high.”

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She said at any given time, there were thousands of people trying to get a room. During June, almost 8000 people went through the system.

Covid-19 response Minister Chris Hipkins said this was why he told Kiwis to head home a few months ago.

“I stood here some months ago and said to New Zealanders thinking about coming home, ‘Now is good’ … back when there was a surplus of supply,” he said.

However, migrants and split families both in New Zealand and abroad say this didn’t consider what they were going through.

Lianne Powell, a travel agent, has been trying to get a room for a client to little avail.

She said the Government weren’t registering the problem for people like her client, who has a critical job at Auckland Hospital set to begin next month.

“My client is a critical worker, desperately needed by the hospital. If that’s not true, why did they issue her a critical visa?”

She disputed the idea that the problem with the booking system was simply one of high demand, as despite hours of refreshing, she had never seen a room become available on the date she needs.

“I don’t believe it’s just about demand when the dates don’t show up at all.

“They’re not listening to what the problems with the system are. I can’t believe they can’t see outside that square.”

Main said the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, which runs MIQ, was looking at options for the system’s improvement.

“We need to keep working on it,” she said. “There is no silver bullet.”

Options the ministry was looking at included a lottery system like the US green card – and waiting lists.

“One of the challenges of the waitlist is it pushes the problem further up the pipeline,” Main said. “We don’t want people who don’t need vouchers anymore because their plans have changed staying on a waitlist which means people are waiting months for a voucher.”

Another system the ministry says it will look at involves sending out alerts to people when a room is free.

“We’ll also look at alerts for different classes of people,” said Main.

MIQ supply was limited to keep things safe, she said 

“We’ve got to keep the system safe; we don’t have unlimited capacity in MIQ. What we’re trying to do is make it as equitable as possible.”

Whatever strategy used for the MIQ system will have its own strengths and weaknesses, says Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Although passengers on managed return flights from New South Wales will have a place in MIQ arranged for them, Main said this isn’t a realistic possibility for the wider MIQ system.

Arranging MIQ for passengers on the managed return flights means hourly conversations with the two airlines involved, organising how many are on each plane, on which date, and with which destination in New Zealand.

Main said this was a complicated process.

“If we think more globally, we’ve got people coming back to New Zealand from all over the world through hubs, from many airlines,” she said. “These are commercial organisations… this is only sustainable for short bursts.”

Hipkins said whichever strategy the Government followed would l have its own strengths and weaknesses.

“We have to recognise the fact that whatever system we use, at the moment, demand is outstripping supply.”

New Zealand reached this point earlier than the Government expected.

“We’ve reached that point quite quickly,” said Hipkins. “Certainly, earlier than we had anticipated.”

Another issue with MIQ has been the use of automated scripts and bots to cut in line on the MIQ website.

Main said there were no plans to stop people from using automated scripts, which don’t break the allocation system’s terms of service.

These scripts refresh the page automatically, allowing users to scan for free rooms at a much faster pace than manually.

However, as they still require some manual input, they fit within the rules.

“These auto-refreshers still require an individual to be there to make the booking,” said Main. “You still need a person to fill in the captcha, and finalise the details.”

She said new changes were on the way to make the system more user-friendly for people constantly refreshing.

“We are changing it so you don’t have to fill in your details every time you refresh.”

No plan to make the system fairer for the less technologically-literate was proposed.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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