New Zealand closed its borders in early 2020 as it sought to first eliminate COVID-19 completely and then later control its spread. Although the country reopened its borders to most tourists arriving by plane in May, it lifted all remaining restrictions, including sea arrivals, until two weeks ago.
Many in the cruise industry question why it took so long.
Allowing the End of Restrictions Carnival Australia‘s pacific explorer The cruise ship to dock in Auckland with about 2,000 passengers and crew on Friday morning as part of a 12-day return trip to Fiji that departed Sydney.
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is another step towards reopening our borders and we are close to resuming business as usual.”
Nash said it will take some time for international tourist numbers and revenues to return to their pre-pandemic levels, when the industry accounts for about 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of GDP.
“I think there are a lot of people in the tourism sector who’ve hit it hard over the past two years,” Nash said. “But we have always taken an approach where we need to make sure we get the health response right. Because if we don’t do that, we know it will have dire consequences.”
Not everyone is happy with the return of tourists. A sailboat carrying protesters upset about the industry’s impact on the environment chased a Pacific explorer into port on Friday, before passengers were greeted with an indigenous Māori welcome and a visit by the prime minister. Jacinda Ardern,
Nash said the pause in tourism has given the country an opportunity to reset its priorities. One of them was to go after what he described as wealthy “high quality” tourists who would stay longer and have a story to tell when they returned home.
“We’re not targeting people who come to Facebook and post, ‘Hey, travel to New Zealand for $10 a day on 2-minute noodles,'” Nash said.
Another goal, he said, was to move away from the notion that people working in the industry would be paid longer and lower wages, and make it a more rewarding and aspirational career.
Nash said tourism numbers may remain subdued for a while, with airline tickets more expensive and travelers at greater risk than they were before the pandemic, but he thought the industry would eventually make a strong comeback.
“I see that markets like the United States are a really important market for New Zealand,” he said. “States have saved $2 trillion, which would have been saved if it had not been for COVID. So, there’s a little bit of money floating around. ,