Covid-19 Delta outbreak: RIP MIQ – travel and tourism react to border plans

For Kiwi travellers its a happyish New Year – if not a Merry Christmas.

For the international tourism sector there’s little joy anywhere in the Government’s border announcement.

But the international travel and tourism sectors finally have some dates to work with following the announcement that quarantine-free travel will resume next year, in a staged fashion.

First for vaccinated and Covid-tested Kiwis from Australia from January 16 and then if you’re a Kiwi (or spouse or child of a citizen) you can return from all other countries from February 13 without going through MIQ.

The MIQ barrier is removed from all fully vaccinated foreigners from April 30, meaning that international tourists can come back if they can self-isolate for a week.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins is understating it when he says travel in 2022 won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic.

All travellers not required to go into MIQ will still require:
• a negative pre-departure test
• proof of being fully vaccinated
• a passenger declaration about travel history
• a day 0/1 test on arrival
• a requirement to self-isolate for seven days, and
• a final negative test before entering the community

The minister says retaining a seven-day isolate at home period for fully vaccinated travellers was an “important phase” in the reconnecting strategy to provide continued safety assurance.

“These settings will continue to be reviewed against the risk posed by travellers entering New Zealand.”

Monitoring of those isolating would be light.Hipkins said barring something ”very very bad” the dates were locked in.

MIQ would still be needed for unvaccinated arrivals.

Tourism Export Council chief executive Lynda Keene says the self-isolation requirement is “nonsense.”

“If the Government pursues a self-isolation mandate for international visitors, New Zealand will simply not have an international tourism recovery of any kind and it would destroy NZ’s world-class tourism industry and its global reputation, along with hundreds of tourism businesses.”

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts says while dates are helpful, the seven-day isolation requirement is ”hugely disappointing”.

And the decision not to open up to Australia before Christmas will grate for thousands of families and provide traction for opponents.Already Act has described the Government as the “Grinch who stole Christmas for no reason”.

Its leader David Seymour says the Government needs to stop milking gratitude for giving citizens any freedom at all and start explaining why restrictions are justified.

But compared to New Zealand’s currently locked down status, the world is slowly opening up again.

To fortify the Covid-19 health response the economic cost and mental toll has been horrendous.

Since the borders were shut in March 2020, the $17b a year international visitor industry went into a tailspin and the outbound travel sector has been hammered with staff numbers falling to less than a third of the 5000.They helped put more than three million Kiwis on trips overseas. every year before the pandemic.

David Coombes, managing director Flight Centre Travel Group NZ, said the firm was excited that the Government was able to give some clarity to New Zealanders and the travel industry.

“After 20 long months we will be taking a moment to celebrate, and don’t we deserve it.This is a huge day for our customers and our industry. One we have been hanging out for, so long.”

But he said the announcement hasn’t gone far enough.

“We do question why this action needs to wait until 2022, given the desperation of many families to reunite with their loved ones ahead of Christmas,” Coombes said.

The seven-day isolation seemed ”excessive” if vaccination requirements and Covid-19 testing is being used at every stage of a traveller’s journey, which is more rigorous than domestic requirements.

“We sincerely hope today’s announcement is the worst-case scenario and welcome all conversations from the government to land on a sooner date with simpler, more logical safety measures.”

Air New Zealand says today’s announcement signals the beginning of the return to international travel.

”This is incredibly exciting news for New Zealanders at home and overseas and we can’t wait to welcome our customers back on board,” says the airline’s chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty.

“We’ve kept our operation ready for this, so look forward to seeing the tens of thousands of Kiwis who’ll be making plans to board our aircraft soon.”

Following the New Zealand Government’s announcement, Air New Zealand will be readjusting its schedule to reflect today’s border reopening plan for both trans-Tasman travel, and the rest of the world.The airline will release more detail around its schedule soon, including when it will restart flying to key destinations like Los Angeles, Fiji and Honolulu.

“We can be ready before late April to fly visitors from around the globe and we’re hoping New Zealand’s success with vaccinations will see that decision reviewed and brought forward in the new year,” Geraghty says.

However, quarantine free ‘green’ flights from Australia and New Zealand fromJanuary 1 to 16 will be cancelled, and customers will be reaccommodated on other services or have their fares placed into credit.

The airline continues to operate a reduced schedule of flights into Sydney and Melbourne and ‘red fights’ from Australia into New Zealand for those with MIQ spots.

Air New Zealand is working through the required changes to their international schedule to align withFebruary 14 – Valentine’s Day – for New Zealanders who are wanting to reconnect with rest of the world.

Travel Agents Association of NZ president Brent Thomas says the plan is a good starting point but would have liked the Australian travel corridor open before Christmas.

”It is a good starting point because at least there’s recognition it’s safe to open up international borders for fully vaccinated travellers and those who do a negative test beforehand.”

For airlines, some dates mean they can make plans – if those plans include coming back to New Zealand.For some of the 30 which flew into Auckland the economics won’t work any longer.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, co-chair for the New Zealand Aviation Coalition (NZAC), says the aviation sector cannot understand why the Government is still requiring self-isolation when data shows it’s unnecessary.

The staged opening of the border announced by the government today, ultimately means New Zealand is off the radar for international travellers and airlines are likely to react by deploying aircraft to other routes.

“With the latest dates for reopening we’re months behind Australia and out of step with the rest of the world,” Tighe-Umbers said.

Keene says the self-isolation mandate is a very confusing message for airlines and offshore travel sellers.

”New Zealand is open…but it’s not open properly. It’s just too hard.”

Visitors will go somewhere else, like Australia, where they are rolling the welcome mat out.

”Decisions made today by government will affect the next five years of our international tourism offering, not the next five months. Long haul travellers to the Oceania region only come once every five to 10 years. If we make it too complicated for visitors to be in New Zealand, they’ll either just put Australia on the list or not come to New Zealand at all,” she says.

The $550m a year cruise industry is encouraged but not popping the champagne yet.

”It is great to be seeing some firm dates from the Government around our borders, utterly brilliant even with the focus on helping the overall well-being of our Kiwis overseas,” says NZ Cruise Association chairwoman Debbie Summers.

While today’s announcement was animportant step forward to enable the restart of the international cruise industry visitors needed to be able to come here without a self-isolation mandate upon arrival.

”I think we will be waiting a little longer for this however the announcement today is a solid start to a better 2022 for us all.Domestic cruise tourism may well be within our reach however and it will be something we will continue to advocate hard for,” she says.

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