New Zealand could spend all of 2022 without an open border, growing fears for the country’s beleaguered tourism industry.
Tourism minister Stuart Nash told a cross-industry roundtable this week they should prepare for another 12 months locked away from the world due to COVID-19.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said Mr Nash gave a “full and frank” warning it could be “summer 2022-23 before there is any significant inflow of visitors”.
Mr Nash told AAP the government would assess “a whole lot of variables” next year before deciding on a border reopening.
That includes the resilience of NZ’s health system, variants like Omicron, the success of the country’s booster campaign, and the impact of returning Kiwis from Australia and Europe.
NZ’s current plan is to open to tourists from April 30, but only if they are willing to spend a week in self isolation on arrival.
Mr Nash declined to be drawn on NZ’s timeline to do away with self-isolation altogether.
“It is very difficult to speculate (when the border will fully open) because there’s just so many unknowns,” he said.
Gradual border reopening begins next month.
Kiwis based in Australia can return from January 17, and those based further abroad can return from February 14, with the same self-isolation requirement.
Mr Roberts told AAP self-isolation would keep international tourists out.
“When we do open up to non-Kiwis, that essentially means we’ll have no leisure visitors and very few business arrivals. It limits arrivals largely to friends and family,” he said.
“Instead of going to New Zealand, you could go to Canada or Australia or the USA and not do self-isolation.
“It’s going to be an intensely competitive market – it already is – and New Zealand is going to start at the back of the field.”
New opposition leader Chris Luxon, visiting Christchurch on Thursday, called for “targeted and ongoing support” for the sector, something Mr Nash has resisted through the pandemic.
“They’ve done it tough. There’s no doubt about that. I accept that. But by and large I think they buy into the strategy we’ve adopted,” Mr Nash said.
NZ’s tourism industry wants the government to relent and abandon self-isolation for all Australians – akin to the trans-Tasman bubble – sometime in 2022.
Australians accounted for 40 per cent of NZ’s international visitors prior to the pandemic, or 1.5 million people, and 20 per cent of the international tourism spend.
“Australian tourism is grateful they don’t have New Zealand as a competitor,” he said.
“If the seven-day isolation requirement extends later into 2022, the economic loss (for NZ) over the next three years from a slower tourism recovery could be $NZ16 billion ($A15.2 billion).”
The government expects about 20,000 overseas-based Kiwis to return in the first quarter of 2022, when the hotel quarantine requirement is lifted.