Evaluating booking systems is his job, but now like thousands of others he’s hit a dead end with MIQ – and the Government doesn’t want to hear his solutions

When Mike Moore lost his brother to suicide a few months ago, his niece asked when she could expect him.

His brother had a history of mental illness, and Moore had always been the go-to person for his brother’s kids.

So ordinarily he would be there like a shot – but this time, something stood in the way.

His brother and his family were back in the United Kingdom, while Moore lives in New Zealand.

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Going home used to be a marathon trip, but now it’s near impossible with a nearly unworkable MIQ booking system preventing his return.

And unlike most people caught in the no man’s land of MIQ booking hold-ups, this is Moore’s bread and butter.

He makes his living as a travel technology consultant, helping airlines and travel companies with selecting reservation systems.

Mismanagement and a lack of planning have unnecessarily made urgent travel hopeless, he said.

“When I went to book, I found this little game of no availability at any time, ever,” he said.

Without a waitlist or an indication of how much unsatisfied demand there is, the MIQ booking site has become a free-for-all.

But according to Moore, there are simple solutions to these problems, and the Government’s responses have done nothing but confuse the issue further.

“Every hotel and airline has used a waitlist for the longest time,” he said. “They say they aren’t using one to be fair to people around the world trying to get rooms. They don’t pre-announce and they release the rooms randomly – to be fair?”

Two weeks ago, joint Head of MIQ Megan Main shot down waitlists as a solution.

“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.”

But Moore disputes this, saying the lack of a waitlist currently means people have been waiting months for a voucher anyway.

“At least a waitlist has the resemblance of respect, like people waiting in a queue,” he said. “It also gives an indication of suppressed demand – how many people are also trying to get a room.”

He also wonders about the decision to show users a calendar full of greyed out dates.

“If there’s no availability, don’t put up the calendar,” he said. “There’s no use asking people to check the site on the off chance of getting a room if you know none are available – it sends the message that people’s time is worthless.”

Joint Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Brigadier Rose King recognised there may be unequal access to the MIQ booking system due to different levels of digital literacy.

“MBIE recognises that not everybody has access to a computer or mobile device, reliable internet, the availability to spend time securing a voucher, or is comfortable using an online service.”

However, she said this gap was filled by the system allowing people to get family members or travel agents to book for them.

“[The booking system] was developed in a way that allows third parties to book vouchers on behalf of others using their own log-in details. Third parties can include reputable companies such as established travel agencies, or a person the traveller trusts such as a family member or friend,” she said.

According to the MIQ website, MBIE has made about 200 improvements since the beginning of the online booking system – many of which were targeted at making it more user friendly – “We’re constantly making changes, both to make it easier to use and to make it fairer.”

Over the last week, there was an average of approximately 17,700 users on the site every day while MIQ reports that on any given day there are a few hundred vouchers being booked.

If we put MBIE’s ‘few hundred’ at 300, this leaves around 98 percent of people trying to get a room coming up with nothing.

If the average user makes around 100 attempts to find a room, that means there is around a 0.016 percent chance of success.

Moore calls this the “hopelessness factor”.

“Anyone using a robot or paying a third party will have much more than 100 searches,” he said. “So the chances for an unassisted person are even lower.”

Moore thinks the issue comes down to government mismanagement, rather than purely unprecedented demand for rooms.

“This is a government that has been good at reacting to a crisis, but then useless at dealing with a strategic plan for the longer term,” he said.

The first thing the Government needs to do is be transparent, said Moore.

“We need to know how many rooms are available, and what the plan is to create mobility,” he said. “This strategy of keeping people in the dark is an insult to everybody.”

ACT leader David Seymour said he has spoken to many people affected by being unable to get into MIQ, including those who, like Moore, are unable to be with families overseas.

“I have a constituent who at the moment is tossing up whether he goes and visits his dying brother to say goodbye, because if he does he may not be able to get back into New Zealand until next year with the current system,” Seymour said.

And as things change around the world, Moore says this island nation will see greater demand put pressure on the MIQ system.

“Now that we are vaccinating, people will travel more,” he said. “This is a country of highly mobile people who have travelled their whole lives.”

He expects as parts of the world get the pandemic under control, more people will be looking to head in or out of the country.

Moore’s situation doesn’t qualify for an emergency allocation voucher, so, like many people, he is stuck with no path forward but to sit at his computer, waiting for that near-mythical open room to appear on his screen.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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