Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the NZ will be reopening its borders in a five-phase manner starting from 11.59pm on 27 February.

The announcement sent NZ’s travel industry in a tizzy with various stakeholders largely welcoming the decision.

While international airlines welcomed the announcement, they still want a clearer plan around the removal of self-isolation which is still a requirement for returning travellers. They want to know when will the self-isolation requirements be removed for travellers.

In December 2019, there were 29 airlines that connected Auckland to 43 international destinations whereas currently only 12 airlines fly to 22 international destinations from Auckland Airport. This flight movement is the same as it was 35 years ago! International passenger volumes are now down by 96 percent since December 2019.                

Tourism Industry Aotearoa spokesperson Ann-Marie Johnson said the staged opening of the border announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a positive step towards reconnecting friends and family, and industries will benefit from people coming on working holiday visas from March. But she added that the Government’s willingness to remove self-isolation requirements ahead of schedule will be crucial to revive the tourism industry as international travellers will be hesitant to come to NZ only to spend seven days in self isolation.

Expressing similar sentiments, Mary-Elizabeth Tuck of Auckland Airport said, “While the (self-isolation) requirements are in place, airlines say their customers will not want to fly long-haul to NZ for the trip of a lifetime or on business, only to spend their first week sitting in a hotel.”

Ms Tuck said Auckland Airport had spoken to 10 airlines and their feedback had been that they would not be able to get sizeable bookings to sustain long-haul flights to and from New Zealand.

“The single biggest issue for restarting international tourism is to remove the self-isolation requirements. Requiring international visitors to spend the first seven days in isolation will mean very limited arrivals. Most tourism operators will have to survive through another long winter before they can expect potential visitors,” she said.

Australia steals New Zealand’s thunder: Announces reopening from 21 February

On 7 February, Australia made an announcement which took most in New Zealand by surprise. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the country will be ending its 704-day old border closure and is ready to welcome fully vaccinated international visitors back from 21 February.

While the news was expectedly welcomed by not just the tourism industry in Australia but the world over, reactions from NZ tourism businesses were one of dismay. Nobody in the industry was expecting Australia to open its borders so early.

Sometime in July, vaccinated visitors from visa waiver countries such as Australia and the United States will be able to travel to NZ. Now with Australia opening in February, the difference of five months might put NZ tourism industry at a disadvantage.

The reason that the NZ tourism industry is feeling left out is that about 40 percent of visitors to Australia and NZ were people who planned to visit both destinations. Particularly visitors from North American countries, UK and European countries who only come to this part of the world every 5-10 years.

The requirement for seven-day self-isolation may further be a dampener for those planning to travel both the countries.

Tourism Export Council of NZ chief executive Lynda Keene expressed extreme concern that New Zealand is going to be left behind and its global reputation will take another hit besides potentially losing on millions of dollars.

Leeann Watson, Chief Executive of Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce said, "We would have liked to hear that tourists would be welcomed back to our shores earlier than October, given the huge impact a lack of tourism is having across our region. It reinforces the need for the Government to provide clear information and financial support to those sectors that continue to be hit by restrictions. A date for the end of isolation requirements will be crucially important for our tourism sector, so they can start to plan for the return of visitors.”

Reacting to Australia’s announcement, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay criticised the government, “The lack of certainty from the Government over dates could see airlines and travel companies directing tourists to Australia rather than to NZ. Once again, we’re the poor cousins.

“NZ should be following Australia by providing a desperately needed lifeline to our tourism sector – paying visitors. Our remaining tourism businesses need a clear timeline, now,” he said.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed Australia’s reopening of international border and urged other Asia Pacific government to also look at easing their border restrictions similar to Australia to enable recovery in the aviation and tourism industry.