August 1, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

Just a few days short of thirty months since New Zealand banned travellers from China from entry in the first days of February 2020, the final step of New Zealand’s border reopening plan was enacted at one minute to midnight yesterday.

While the New Zealand border has been open to most fully vaccinated visitors from Australia since mid-April this year, from last night, travellers from non-visa-waiver countries could apply for visas to enter New Zealand once again.

Yesterday’s border entry change means visitors from the world’s two most populous countries – China and India – can now apply for entry into New Zealand. Other markets newly cleared to apply for entry include South Africa and nearly the whole of the African continent, Thailand and Indonesia.

“Today’s change in border settings marks the final milestone for our reconnecting strategy. This is great news to the tourism industry and economy as we approach spring and summer with people from the Northern hemisphere booking their winter holidays,” said New Zealand’s Tourism Minister Stuart Nash yesterday.

“We’ve heard optimistic messages from tourism operators who are ready to welcome back international visitors from all over the world.

“Since April, visitors from our key markets such as Australia have been able to travel to New Zealand, and it’s great to see the recovery of the tourism sector back on track.

“We’re seeing a strong uptick in arrivals from Australia and the US, with Queenstown in particular receiving a surge in visitors.”

Destination Queenstown has just released its nine-month forward outlook for accommodation, which shows near-term weekend occupancy is starting to exceed pre-pandemic levels, but mid-week occupancy – where business events reign – is still considerably below 2019 levels, with the difference starker in the months further ahead.

Queenstown is in the middle of an NZ$1 billion investment in visitor economy infrastructure and experiences, including a near 40 per cent increase in hotel inventory over the last four years.

“Globally there is pent up demand for people to visit New Zealand,” said Nash.

“In January, 58 per cent of Australians who would like to visit New Zealand wanted to come within six months of borders opening. This number is even higher for our American target market, at 77 per cent and we’re ready for them.”

The cruise industry can now put New Zealand back on its stop map, with the last step of reopening also including lifting the cruising ban.

“The return of cruise ships is another boost for local communities. Pre-pandemic their visits were worth in excess of $500 million a year, of which $356 million was spent onshore, providing a valuable economic contribution to our regions,” said Nash.

“Most cruise visits are during the warmer months of October to April, and summer is our bumper tourism season overall. This means it will be full steam ahead for the industry who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond.”

New Zealand still requires most visitors entering New Zealand to be fully vaccinated against COVID, but the requirement for a pre-departure test was dropped in late June. International arrivals into New Zealand are still required to take two rapid antigen tests in their first week in the country and report the results to the health department.

The full reopening of New Zealand’s borders will be a boost for business events, clearing the way for more international delegates to attend events in New Zealand, as well as further reviving incentive activity from South and Southeast Asia and further afield.