Border reopening: Travel, tourism and business sectors celebrate

Airports, hospitality, businesses, hotels, and tourism operators from across the country are welcoming the news that New Zealand will be allowing in Australian and visa-waiver visitors soon.

The border opens to vaccinated Australians from 13 April and vaccinated travellers from other visa-waiver countries from 2 May.

The various groups and representatives in the sectors say the past two years have been incredibly tough with many sacrifices made, but this long-awaited news provides them certainty, allows for gradual rebuild of tourism and will save operators from collapse.

More flights added over Easter, travel sector recruits

Flight Centre Travel Group said today's news would mean more flight options for those wanting to travel overseas and competitive prices.

Flight Centre said they were already seeing high demand from customers and they would focus on recruiting more travel consultants over time.

However, they said the dates for reopening should move closer, to 1 April, to capture all the Australian states' various holiday periods and to ensure airline capacity returned in time for Kiwis' school holidays.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said flights across the Tasman had been particularly popular, especially over the Easter period, where more than 90 flights have been added.

The airline has more than 50 flights per week on its 15 international routes and will adjust capacity to meet demand in the coming months.

As border restrictions ease, the airline has started to rebuild its aircrew with about 700 flight attendants and pilots rehired in the six months since October 2021. It expected to hire more over the next six months as international passengers increase.

Airports prepare for more international flights

Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said about 450 international flights were scheduled to and from the airport during April to June, but the airport expected this to increase as airlines adjusted their schedules.

The first international flight to the Capital is expected on 31 March from Brisbane with Air New Zealand.

From 1 April, Wellingtonians will be able to fly from the airport to Brisbane non-stop, from 4 April non-stop to Melbourne and from 5 April non-stop to Sydney. Fiji Airways also plan to start flying non-stop to Nadi from Wellington on 13 April and Qantas is looking to return from 23 May with services to Sydney and Melbourne.

Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry said they were working closely with its four airline partners and the border agencies to ensure a smooth reopening in the region.

"Prior to the pandemic, 30 percent of all passengers at Queenstown Airport arrived and departed on trans-Tasman flights, so Australia is a really important market for us."

Calls for elimination of vaccine passes and review of traffic light settings

Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) chief executive Lisa Hopkins said this news was long anticipated by the events industry and would offer them much-needed certainty.

"This is the message our international customers needed to hear. We anticipate between 50 to 60 business events with international attendees will now be able to proceed with confidence this year, bringing vital export revenue and cash flow back to the sector," Hopkins said.

However, Hopkins said it was still critical to know when the country or regions would shift from red to green in the Covid-19 Protection Framework and called for the elimination of vaccine passes

In a statement, Hospitality New Zealand said the reopening would save many businesses from insolvency and would be a reprieve to hardest hit areas, like southern ski resorts.

"It would be good to get clarity around when we will open to tourists from China and India, because it's important for business to plan ahead of that."

Auckland would also massively benefit from Australian visitors as the city's CBD was in a worse situation than lockdown, with many supply-chain issues and isolation periods causing disruption, it said.

"We need the border fully open to all as soon as possible, we need to get out of the Red traffic light setting so we can have more venues open and get concerts back, and we need to get rid of vaccine passes."

The group was worried about vaccine passes being enforced for international visitors, when it took 10 days to get a pass.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said various sectors would now be working hard "to create appealing, affordable and unique packages to put New Zealand back on the map".

But Barnett warned the return of tourism would not be with a bang but a slow burn as it rebuilds.

"Now is the time to review product and retrain a workforce to encourage new entrants with the lure of career paths and transferrable skills."

Economic development agency Auckland Unlimited said the last two months have been the toughest for businesses in the city and knowing tourists would return in coming months provided certainty.

"We're doing a lot of work to first of all get workers back into the city, Auckland City's usually home to 140,000 people during the day working, get those people back, places will start opening up at the same time as the visitors start coming in."

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it was great to see advocacy for the reopening dates to be brought forward, which various sectors called for, had finally been heard.

"It's important we keep moving and extend this welcome to non-visa waiver countries like China as well, to bring skilled workers and large tourism markets back."

Tourism industry expects gradual recovery

Tourism Industry Aotearoa spokesperson Ann-Marie Johnson said the news would be a huge boost for the ski season for operators, but they too anticipated a gradual recovery this year.

TIA's Tourism Industry Roadmap suggests that it could be 2024 before the industry reaches its 'new normal'

Destination Queenstown (DQ) Board Chair Richard Thomas said there was pent-up demand from the Australian market, but they still hoped to retain support from the domestic market that was gained over the period when borders were shut.

"DQ has been preparing for this moment and is set to go-live with consumer marketing activity in the Australian market from this Friday."

Hotel and tourism group Accor NZ, which manages brands like Pullman, Novotel, Sebel, Mercure, and Ibis, supported the move but said it also wanted a review of the Covid-19 protection framework.

"The accommodation industry has been in the 'grey-zone' with the government's protection frameworks, especially those hotels that have conference facilities, restaurants, bars and day Spas," said Accor NZ senior vice president of operations Gillian Millar.

"We urgently need a clear pathway at least to orange level of the protection framework to assist with delivering a quality guest experience for our domestic and international visitors."

Accor NZ expects to see an increase in business travellers, as Australian businesses open up travel for their teams, and other overseas companies re-engage face to face with New Zealand's local businesses.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said the reopening could not have come soon enough to help the district's economy recover.

"This news represents a vital economic lifebuoy for our district and a real boost to our community's wellbeing at a time when we're just about keeping afloat," he said.

"Winter would have been too late for some local businesses - sadly, we've seen several close already - so to know that fully vaccinated visitors and the workers we urgently need to service their visit will be here over the Easter holidays is fantastic news."

Radio New Zealand, RNZ
March 16, 2022

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