‘New Zealand will be the loser': travel sector bemoans slow reopening

Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Tourism and aviation figures say decision to only let fully vaccinated non-citizens enter in April will hold country back

Lyn Rickman and her family were hoping to travel across the ditch from Australia to visit her daughter Ellie, who lives in New Zealand and is due to graduate in Auckland at the beginning of May.

“Now chances are we won’t get there, because the borders will open in a staggered way from 30 April and we’d have to quarantine,” says Rickman.

“We can’t plan anything … we’re just hoping New Zealand changes the rules. I’ll be triple-vaxxed, what more can we do? It’s hard.”

Rickman is one of many Australians frustrated by New Zealand’s gradual border reopening timeline, which keeps Australians out until at least 30 April.

Under the plan, fully vaccinated New Zealanders currently in Australia will be able to return home without quarantine from 17 January.

Related: ‘Bawled my eyes out’: tears and cheers of New Zealanders free to head home

But fully vaccinated non-citizens won’t be able to enter the country until 30 April next year, and they will still need to isolate for a week.

The Tourism Export Council of New Zealand chief executive, Lynda Keene, is disappointed with the government’s decisions, in particular the need to have travellers self-isolate on arrival.

“The impact on international tourism businesses cannot be understated,” Keene says.

“Decisions today will affect the next five years of New Zealand’s international tourism offering. Australia will be the winner. New Zealand will be the loser.”

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive, Dean Long, has described the move as a “body blow” to the travel industry and said many were frustrated at the decision.

“It effectively means the largest source market for both [Australia and New Zealand] won’t recover until the end of 2022 and into 23,” he says.

Long says it would take up to six months for travel volume to recover properly, as tourists initially remain weary of potential lockdowns or border closures.

“This unfortunately means for New Zealand they’re going to be at the bottom of the rung for people wanting to travel for leisure purposes.

“I can’t see there being a strong snow season for New Zealand because Australians just won’t have confidence that the New Zealand government won’t close the border and lock them out and cancel flights.”

It comes as Australian tourists find themselves with limited options for travelling.

If international airlines decide to pull out of New Zealand, it may be years before they return

Chris Roberts

As it stands, they can only visit the UK, the US, Canada, Italy, Greece, Germany and South Africa without having to quarantine.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, the co-chair of the New Zealand Aviation Coalition, says the aviation sector is at a loss as to why the New Zealand government is taking a more conservative approach to reopening its border.

“With the latest dates for reopening, we’re months behind Australia and out of step with the rest of the world,” he says.

“We can go and visit family and friends in Australia, but there is no certainty they will be able to come see us for another five months and even if they can they’ll still have to isolate for seven days.”

“International airlines plan schedules way in advance and New Zealand is falling off the radar,” Tighe-Umbers says. “Every day that goes by without certainty, is a day they choose to put their assets elsewhere.”

Liam Nash had his hopes riding on being able to return home to New Zealand in time for Christmas. He hasn’t seen his family in 18 months.

But with the border remaining shuttered until 13 January, Nash isn’t sure when he’ll be able to make it. He’s set to start a new job in Victoria the day after it reopens.

“Planning a trip back has been a logistical nightmare,” he says. “The lack of surety surrounding the border bubble has made it difficult to plan ahead, and although I’m glad we are able to travel back from January, I’ve missed my window.

Related: As New Zealand lifts Covid lockdowns, some small towns ask tourists to stay away

“It’s a bittersweet pill to swallow.”

New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, announced the new timeline on Wednesday, conceding that it may affect plans for families hoping to be reunited over Christmas.

“A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed. This reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system,” he said.

All non-citizen travellers will need to take a Covid test upon arrival, self-isolate for seven days and can only enter the community when they return a negative test.

Chris Roberts, the chief of the Tourism Industry Aotearoa, has welcomed the certainty that comes with dates for reopening being announced but criticised the lack of clarity on when non-citizens would be able to enter the country without having to isolate.

“The government has failed to recognise the critical importance of visitors to re-establishing our connections with the world,” he says.

“This is not just about tourism. If international airlines decide to pull out of New Zealand, it may be years before they return – putting vital trade links for high-value exports and critical imports at risk.”

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