The tourism industry is celebrating the start of isolation-free trans-Tasman travel this week, but worries remain over how ready we are to welcome them, Catherine McGregor writes in the Bulletin.
New Zealand gets ready to throw open its doors.
When a week ago Stuff published a story on the “the one road trip every Kiwi needs to do before the tourists come back” – journalist Brook Sabin picked the spectacular (and remote) Milford Road – the message was clear: our hermit kingdom’s tourist-free days are numbered, so enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. New Zealand takes a major step towards reopening on Wednesday with the start of isolation-free travel for Australian visitors, three months earlier than originally planned.
But will they come?
It’s great news for our tourism industry, but anxieties remain – among them worker shortages, high flight prices and the question of how quickly the tourists will return, or if they will at all. While around 1.5 million Australians visited annually pre-pandemic, nobody is expecting anything like those numbers either this year or next. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub told Stuff this week’s changes could even be a net negative for our economy since there will also be a rush of New Zealanders booking holidays in Australia, and New Zealanders spend more in Australia than vice versa. As we head into winter, there’s also the lure of warmer climes for our industry to contend with. Aussie tourist favourite Bali is now open to vaccinated visitors, and many Australians are enjoying the clean, uncrowded beaches and rare lack of drunk compatriots, according to 7 News.
Airlines are still struggling.
One of the biggest issues right now is a shortage of trans-Tasman flights. Newshub found that prices across the ditch have soared in the lead-up to the reopening, with flights to New Zealand “so expensive and hard to get that it’s proving difficult to travel here at all”. According to National Party leader Christopher Luxon, a former Air New Zealand chief executive, that’s the government’s fault. The Otago Daily Times reported on his accusations that the prime minister had left the announcement “way too late” for airlines and tourism operators to prepare for the return of international visitors. In the same story, the ODT noted that international flights into Queenstown will only start in late May; Air New Zealand won’t resume non-domestic flights there until June 24.
Queenstown gears up for a full winter with overseas skiers.
That’ll be a bitter pill for a region that’s been hard hit by the border closures and is preparing for its first full winter with international visitors since the pandemic hit. Queenstown’s CBD is “pockmarked with emptied-out premises” with “empty spaces in virtually every block”, according to local paper Mountain Scene, but the local business owners Stuff talked to are realistic about how much difference the reopening will make in the short term. The immediate issue is finding enough staff while the migrant workforce is still depleted, a challenge whether you’re staffing up an entire ski field or looking for a single good butler – an exceedingly difficult task due to New Zealand lacking a butler school, reports RNZ.