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New Zealand Tourism to Take Years to Recover From Covid Shutdown

New Zealand Tourism to Take Years to Recover From Covid Shutdown
A jet boat operates on the Shotover River near Queenstown, New Zealand, on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Photographer: Mark Coote/Bloomberg

New Zealand expects the international tourism market to take more than three years to recover to pre-Covid levels as it gradually dismantles some of the world’s strictest pandemic border controls. 

Global airlines will take some time to resume operations and some people will be cautious about traveling again because of high costs, Rene de Monchy, chief executive officer of Tourism New Zealand, said in an interview in Singapore. In the next 12 months, revenue generated from to New Zealand visitors could reach 20% to 25% of pre-Covid levels, he said.

“It will take time for all the different parts of the system to get going again,” de Monchy said. “The whole world needs to restart.”

New Zealand is joining other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Australia and Singapore, in allowing quarantine-free travel for the fully vaccinated as they seek to restore their vital tourism industries. Closed borders have also cut the supply of migrant labor and created a worker shortage that’s impeding economic activity, driving up wages and fueling inflation.

New Zealand opened its borders to fully-vaccinated visitors from Australian on April 13, after the doors were shut two years ago to contain the spread of Covid-19. Travelers from other visa-waiver countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Singapore and Germany will be allowed in from May 2. This will help boost the tourism industry, once New Zealand’s biggest export earner.

The reopening of borders comes just before New Zealand’s ski season, a popular time for Australians to visit, de Monchy said. Long-haul visitors from Europe, Singapore and other countries are expected during the year-end period, he said.

The borders were closed two years ago, allowing only citizens to enter via managed isolation facilities to ensure they didn’t carry the virus into the local community. So-called “Fortress New Zealand” largely succeeded in keeping Covid-19 at bay until the arrival of the highly infectious omicron variant, which is now spreading rapidly through the population.

While tourism generated more foreign income for New Zealand before the pandemic, there were concerns about over-crowding and poor infrastructure that was damaging the nation’s clean, green image. As the border begins to progressively re-open, the government is promoting a reset of tourism that focuses on quality experiences rather than volume of visitors.

Read more: New Zealand Says Foreign Visitors Will Need to ‘Pay Their Way’

“High quality” travelers are those that not only have the financial means to visit, but also enjoy nature and cultural experiences and want to come back, de Monchy said. “When I’m talking about a ‘high quality’ visitor, it’s not one profile, but it means we really look well beyond just targeting financially rich people,” he said.

Covid rules in New Zealand have also eased recently as indicators show the peak for the virus has passed. Last week, limits on indoor gatherings were removed. While mask wearing is still required in certain indoor settings, it’s “encouraged” in other situations.


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