The island country of New Zealand, had closed its borders in early 2020 as it sought to eliminate spread of Covid-19. After having remained closed to foreigners for over two years, in May 2022 the country in southern hemisphere reopened its borders to most tourists arriving by air, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that it lifted all remaining restrictions, including those on maritime arrivals.
According to a press release, many in the cruise industry have questioned as to why it took so long. Nevertheless, the end of restrictions has allowed Carnival Australia’s Pacific Explorer cruise ship to dock this morning in the capital Auckland with about 2,000 passengers and crew as part of a 12-day return trip to Fiji that left from Sydney.
“Amazing, isn’t it? It is another step in the reopening of our borders and a step closer to resuming business as usual,” says Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
Nash adds that it would take some time for international tourist numbers and revenue to return to their pre-pandemic levels, when the industry accounted for about 20 pc of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 pc of GDP.
“I think there’s been many people in the tourism sector who have done it hard over the last two years, but we’ve always taken an approach where we need to ensure that we get the health response right. Because if we don’t, we know the consequences are dire,” adds Nash.
However, not everybody was happy with the return of tourists. A sailboat carrying protesters upset about the industry’s impact on the environment followed the Pacific Explorer into the harbour just before passengers were greeted with an Indigenous Māori welcome and a visit by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Nash says the pause in tourism had given the nation a chance to reset its priorities. One of those was to go after what he described as wealthier ‘high quality’ tourists who would stay longer and have a story to tell when they returned home.
“We are not targeting the guys that come over and put up on Facebook, ‘Hey, travel around New Zealand on USD10 a day living on 2-minute noodles,” says Nash and adds that another goal was to move away from the perception that people working in the industry would be subject to long hours and low wages, and to make it a more rewarding and aspirational career.
Nash informed that with airline tickets more expensive and travellers more risk-averse than before the pandemic, tourism numbers could remain subdued for a while, however Nash believes the industry will eventually make a strong comeback.
“I see markets like the United States being a really important market for New Zealand. There’s been USD 2 trillion saved in the States over and above that which would have been saved if it hadn’t been for Covid. So, there’s a little bit of money floating around,” concludes Nash.