PM on border reopening plan: 'We're ready to welcome the world back'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash have announced plans to fast-track the reopening of the border.

Ardern has announced New Zealand's borders will be open to vaccinated Australians from 11.59 pm on 12 April.

She says fully vaccinated travellers from visa-waiver countries will be able to enter the country from 11.59pm on 1 May.

The border has already reopened to New Zealanders from around the world and on Monday critical and skilled workers also became eligible to enter without isolation, Ardern says.

"We have now received guidance that it is safe to significantly bring forward the next stage of border reopening work, bringing back our tourists."

"In short, we're ready to welcome the world back."

Ardern says New Zealand' strong health response including having the lowest death rate in the OECD is an asset.

"We are a safe place to visit and New Zealand will be ready with open arms."

Ardern says trans-Tasman travellers have traditionally made up 40 percent of tourists to New Zealand, and will be able to travel in time for the Australia school holidays, and provide a boost for the winter ski season.

Tourism directly contributed 5.5 percent to GDP before Covid-19, she says, as well as $11 billion generated indirectly, and tourist demand benefits other industries including accommodation, adventure, entertainment, arts and culture. It accounted for 8 percent of the national workforce, she says.

Ardern acknowledges the decision comes at a time when we are dealing with a level of Covid-19 New Zealand has not seen before.

She says traveller numbers will take time to rebuild and will be lower than they were in 2019.

Travellers will not need to isolate on arrival, but will need to provide a pre-departure test and take two RATs on day 0/1 and day 5/6, which is the case for all arrivals at the border.

Ardern says this also increases capacity for New Zealand's exports, and will mean lower freight rates and a lower cost of goods, a further boost for the primary sector and contributing to the country's economic recovery.

She says she is proud New Zealand can provide a safe place for tourists to return to and extend our manaakitanga once more.

She says she will be helping lead the charge on her international trips planned for this year, "encouraging people to buy New Zealand-made and also to come and see us for themselves".

Minister Nash, appearing via video link, says this is the most exciting moment for the tourism sector in the past two years.

He says in light of the announcement, the government's tourism marketing agency Tourism NZ is beginning a new campaign in Australia, seeking to persuade Australians that "our unique landscapes, hospitality and the friendliness of Kiwis are now, quote, within your wildest dreams".

He says it highlights dream experiences sought by Australian businesses, and the ease of travel on the short-haul route.

He says historically more than 71 percent of international tourists who came to ski were Australians.

Internationally, even some of the world's largest tourism operators like Heathrow Airport are predicting a five-year tourism rebuild, he says.

"Our 100 percent pure New Zealand brand remains a very compelling driver for tourists and we can't wait to see them again."

Ardern says she knows from talking to tourism operators and staff how difficult the past two years has been.

Ardern says this is a significant shift forward from the original plan to reopen in July.

"This will I'm sure be welcome news for our operators."

She says at the moment there are gathering limits but these have not limited the ability of tourism operators to continue an offering for domestic tourists.

Changes to vaccine passes and mandates to be announced next week

She says the government is taking another look at settings within the Covid Protection Framework, vaccine passes and mandates, and these are likely to change once we come off the peak of cases.

Ardern says we know Covid is with us and will be with us for some time, but New Zealand will be a sought-after market, including with the country's record on Covid safety.

"Once we come off the back of that Omicron peak we've already indicated that we'll be likely to be able to drop the use of vaccine passes. We'll be making more announcements on the future of mandates, passes and the way our Covid Protection Framework works next week."

Asked if there are any concerns about possible changes to the plan, Ardern says "we are reopening, and I'm asking our Australian family and friends to book their tickets".

She says there are a significant number of people who hold valid visas who will be able to travel from 2 May.

The government will also be reviewing whether it can bring forward the dates for non-visa waiver countries, she says.

"The major issue there is not a question of safety but a question of the ability to process those new visas in a timely way, keeping in mind we're already dealing with a large number of people who are now being made residents through recent decisions and gearing back up a lot of visa processing."

She says at the moment the government has said October is the time it will start processing new visas, but is looking at potentially bringing that forward.

Ardern says part of the tourism workforce includes working holiday visa holders, who are already able to enter New Zealand.

"Travel here for many is a big deal, and so we are now well placed by announcing from the first of May to grab people's attention and grab them in our summer by which time we expect that our industry will have been able to build up that capability."

Ardern says we will see the return of cruise ships, though those changes have not been made formally to the border today. She does not have an estimated timeline for that yet, but will see if officials can provide further information on that.

Nash says maintaining international air connectivity has been absolutely vital. He says Tourism NZ has throughout Covid kept an aspirational branding campaign going, and is now ready to make that a reality.

He says a further campaign will be launched into Europe and the US a bit later in the year as well.

Ardern says tourism officials have been working on a trade fair in June and July in North America, and have seen strong interest.

Nash says: "Things like the America's Cup when people are in their European or US lockdown, stuck in their apartments in the middle of winter, they saw Kiwis on the Hauraki Gulf in the middle of summer enjoying all the fantastic things that New Zealand has to offer.

"And keep in mind that we've been open for a lot longer than ... a lot of other countries, and that aspiration has built, and Tourism New Zealand has played on that aspiration and developed campaigns to turn that aspiration into action."

Ardern says she expects in future eventually non-vaccinated tourists will be able to enter New Zealand, but those decisions have not been made yet.

She says tourists who might become infected with Covid-19 in New Zealand should be prepared to follow the same rules as others, "stay home, get better, before you start moving about again".

She says this is not out of step with other countries.

International travellers who test positive should get a follow-up PCR test, she says, to allow New Zealand to continue to track variants through genome testing.

She says the government wants gold-standard Covid surveillance at the border.

"People who are visiting, they already get a welcome pack, they already get their RATs provided for them, and of course if they register a positive RAT they would be part of our care-at-home system to make sure they're well looked after."

She says there are 570 current holders of a valid visitor visa offshore.

Ardern says if New Zealand is still using vaccine passes when tourists are able to enter, a workable solution will be provided for proof of vaccination.

Ardern says for some non-visa waiver countries where New Zealand has had large markets such as China, there are other domestic requirements in those countries which would be expected to affect arrivals, such as China's requirement for three-week isolation upon return to the country.

Radio New Zealand, RNZ
March 16, 2022