Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assures Australian TV host tourists can 'plan with certainty' in bid to revive billion-dollar industry

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has assured an Australian TV host that tourists can "plan with certainty" as she tries to revive New Zealand's billion-dollar tourism sector. 

The Government this week brought forward the tentative July date for when visa waiver tourists can enter New Zealand. The border will first reopen to vaccinated Australians from April 12 and vaccinated visa waiver tourists from May 1.

Tourists will be required to submit evidence of a supervised pre-departure rapid antigen test (RAT) before their flight, and will be provided with two RATs to test themselves throughout their stay. 

"They would want to be prepared," Ardern said earlier this week, when asked if tourists will need to be able to afford to self-isolate for a week during their trip if they test positive. 

Air New Zealand, Qantas and Jetstar are already planning extra flights to accommodate the demand for Aussies and Kiwis crossing the Tasman ditch and Ardern is in Queenstown celebrating the return of tourists in time for the ski season. 

"They can expect a huge amount of enthusiasm," she told Australia's Sunrise morning TV show on Friday, with the stunning Queenstown landscape in the background. 

"I think one of the overwhelming emotions that every Kiwi felt when we announced that we would be opening the borders was just a sense of relief but also anticipation, excitement and joy," Ardern said. 

"I cannot remember a time when we've been so excited about the prospect of seeing as many Australians as possible come and visit us. 

"So, you can expect to get the warmest welcome you can imagine."

Ardern said Australia and New Zealand were now in similar positions in their fight against COVID-19, with Omicron now rampant in the community, which was why the July date for tourists was brought forward. 

"Even when we announced those indicative dates, we said at the time it's all going to be dependent on when we hit our peak with Omicron and so as soon as we had that upon us in a very similar way that you've experienced in Australia, it gave us much more certainty around when we would expect to come out the other side of that first wave. 

"We are stabilising now and looking to come down so it was possible for us to safely say the 12th of April is looking good, let's give everyone a bit of forewarning and announce an opening date that people can plan for."

Prior to COVID-19, tourism contributed 5.5 percent to New Zealand's GDP, bringing in about $41 billion altogether, and international tourists made up $17 billion of that. It was also responsible for 8 percent of our national workforce.

Ardern described trans-Tasman travel as "hugely important" for New Zealand. 

"Here, I'm in beautiful Queenstown, and whilst Queenstown does get a lot of domestic visitors, Australia's a really important market for them as well, as it is for New Zealand - 40 percent of our tourists come from Australia. It's because it's quick, it's convenient, and we offer - particularly in the place I'm in now for Australians in the winter season - an amazing skiing destination, which is why it's so popular," Ardern said. 

"But it's about more than just our economy, as I know it is for you too. This, for us, is about a step towards a bit more normality. 

"So much of who we are as a nation is defined by our tourism because we pride ourselves on welcoming people here and showing off our country with amazing hospitality and to not have been able to do that has been a real blow for us for two years. 

"To be able to welcome you back, I can't describe the feeling. We're elated."

It's not the first time Ardern has tried to sell New Zealand as a travel destination to Australia during the pandemic. In April last year, The Today Show gave Ardern a light-hearted grilling about what took so long to get the short-lived trans-Tasman bubble up and running. 

"We are in such a similar position as you now," Ardern told Sunrise

"COVID is here so it's vastly different from those periods before where we were trying to operate that bubble between us while we were both trying to keep COVID out," Ardern said. 

"We're in different places now. We are highly vaccinated, we both have COVID, and we're managing it as the rest of the world is. 

"The only thing that I think anyone could say would cause disruption at our border in the future would be another variant that's highly dangerous where vaccines don't work but to be frank, that would cause the whole world to think differently - not just Australia and New Zealand. 

"So, people can plan with certainty. You just need that pre-departure test and a rapid antigen test and when you arrive we'll give you a couple of RATs to take home. It's nice and easy."