Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

TravelMarch 18, 2020

For shoestring tourists needing to self-isolate, options are few

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

On Monday, the government warned that tourists could be deported or detained if they failed to self-isolate on arrival. One problem for all those who want to comply by the rules: there aren’t many places they can do so.

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Times are tough for travellers to New Zealand. Earlier this week it was announced that all tourists coming from overseas (except the Pacific Islands) would need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival due to the Covid-19 crisis. The government has since reiterated that this will be monitored, with “zero tolerance” for non-compliance. Deportations of those failing to meet self-isolation requirements have already begun, including one tourist who attempted to self-isolate in a Christchurch hostel.

Everyone The Spinoff spoke to for this story said they wanted to abide by the new rules, but are finding the logistics a challenge. The manager of an Auckland central hostel, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed he was sticking to Ministry of Health guidelines and was turning away new arrivals. “It’s basically impossible to [self-isolate] in a backpackers,” he said.

The self-isolation requirements haven’t deterred tourists from trying to stay in at backpacking hostels like his.

“We had a group of four Europeans come from Australia, and they went through immigration and [said] ‘look, we’re going to be staying at a backpackers’, and immigration said ‘that’s fine, go on through’.”

Immigration NZ have stated they give all incoming tourists the required information.

Update: as of March 20th, the border is closed to all except New Zealand residents and citizens.

The hostel manager said he knew of another tourist who had landed in Auckland on Monday and had a flight out in two weeks’ time, meaning their entire time in New Zealand would be spent indoors.

“I’m not sure if the information at the airport is quite getting through.”

Facebook groups like Backpackers New Zealand are full of freshly-arrived travellers similarly flummoxed that they’ve been turned away from hostels. Many of them don’t know where to turn.

Hugo, a French traveller currently in Australia, hasn’t even entered New Zealand and he’s already on the back foot. While European borders remain open to citizens like him, the drastic reduction in international flights and the belief that it’s safer in this part of the world have convinced him to continue with his travel plans for now. He says he’s willing to self-isolate when he lands in Christchurch but has not yet found a place to do so.

Motels and hotels can get too expensive for backpacking tourists, despite some cutting their rates, and AirBnB rooms aren’t reliably available as some property owners would prefer their homes aren’t used to self-isolate.

One suggestion given is to hire a camper van. Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield today confirmed that using a camper van to self-isolate is acceptable, but it must be self-contained. You are not permitted to use communal spaces at campgrounds while self-isolating in a camper van.

James Punnett set up a Facebook group after Monday’s announcement that matches people needing to self-isolate with available accommodation. Most accommodation providers in the group are AirBnB hosts like himself.

“We had enquiries from a couple of people looking to self-isolate, and I thought there would be a lot of people going through the same thing – wondering if people will want them to book or not – and I thought it would be easier if we could find people who were willing to offer it.”

The group had only existed for 18 hours when The Spinoff called but it was already processing between 10 and 20 new members every hour, hosts and tourists alike.

“We’ve had huge demand,” said Punnett. “Talking to a lot of owners at the moment, they’ve had huge cancellations at the moment, so there’s a huge amount of spare occupancy.”

He hasn’t noticed any price gouging. “I’ve looked at every property and most of them are offering rates lower than they would normally. I think that comes down to occupancy dropping to the floor, and they’re looking to offer whatever rate they can to get people to come and stay.”

Property owners in the group must be able to meet stringent cleaning requirements, and be aware they’ll likely need to deliver groceries to those self-isolating.

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