Tourism operators are welcoming the end of self-isolation for returning Kiwis but are urging the Government to bring forward the border reopening for non-New Zealanders.
Monday was the first day New Zealanders fully vaccinated against Covid-19 were allowed to return home from Australia without spending time in managed isolation facilities, though they must self-isolate until midnight on Wednesday.
Late on Monday afternoon Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from midnight on Wednesday, vaccinated Kiwis would no longer need to self-isolate.
Kiwis will also be able to return to New Zealand from the rest of the world from midnight on Friday, more than a week earlier than previously announced.
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Ardern also said the Government would reconsider the date that overseas tourists can enter New Zealand – currently set for July for Australian visitors and those from a host of visa-waiver countries, and October from other parts of the world.
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said scrapping self-isolation for Kiwis was positive but would not have a huge impact on Canterbury businesses.
She said it was vital the border opening dates were brought forward for non-citizens in order to get “desperately needed” skills and talent into the country.
“But it is a great signal to the rest of the world.”
Paul Anderson, chief executive of NZSki, which owns Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and Remarkables skifields, said the removal of the isolation requirements was a lifeline for many tourism businesses and would hopefully lead to a busy ski season.
“The tourism and hospitality sector will be thrilled,” he said.
“We need it. Queenstown is really quiet at the moment.”
However, to bring forward the date Australian visitors could come into New Zealand would be “amazing”, he said.
Ten of Queenstown’s best-kept secrets. (File video, first published October 1, 2021).
“If we can get a clear signal to the Australian market that New Zealand is open for business before the July school holidays, it will have a massive impact.”
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said that unless Australians could also come to New Zealand during winter, the announcement would be a double-edged sword.
“Kiwis are going to flock to Australia on holiday knowing they don’t have to isolate when they come back, but Australians aren’t going to come here.
“It’s going to be a tough few months,” he said.
Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes said everyone would be pleased with the Government’s “sensible” decision.
However, business operators were keen to hear about earlier border opening dates and working holiday visas, due to staff shortages.
“This year even the most positive and resilient among us were really struggling,” she said.
There was some caution as people were aware of the trans-Tasman bubble opening and then closing last year, and the chance of a new Covid-19 variant being discovered.
Last year’s ski season was widely considered a disaster as operators dealt with a rollercoaster of changeable weather and border closures, before a storm delivered ideal snow conditions just as the country went into lockdown.
Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry said airlines were scheduling their trans-Tasman routes now and also wanted confirmed dates.
“We are asking for a firm date to be provided as soon as possible, so we can plan to welcome back Aussies for the winter ski season,” he said.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson said non-stop flights between Queenstown and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney are scheduled for late June in time for the key ski season.
“We’re excited to be able to reconnect these destinations and recognize how vital tourism is for the Queenstown community.
“We will continue to monitor the demand environment going forward and consider adjusting the schedule if appropriate.”
Tourism Industry Association communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said the industry was celebrating the “big step forward” but tourism businesses would still need more certainty on when international visitors could come.
Johnson said the industry’s priority was reopening borders to vaccinated international leisure and business travelers.
“It would be wonderful if we could signal soon that New Zealand will reopen to Australian visitors in time for their April school holiday period, which includes Easter.
“If current forecasts are correct, New Zealand’s Omicron outbreak will have passed its peak by then.”
Johnson said many parts of the tourism industry needed time to prepare for the return of international visitors.
The nature of the next summer season will be heavily determined by decisions taken now about New Zealand’s reopening settings, she said.