COVID-19: Return of domestic travel under level 2 welcomed by tourism industry, but concerns remain

Thursday's announcement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that domestic travel can resume under COVID-19 alert level 2 has come as a "huge relief" to the tourism industry.

However, there are still grave concerns for how parts of the sector will survive.

Multiple industry members have welcomed Ardern's announcement, including independent association Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA).

"While the health of New Zealanders must remain the priority, we know that transport, accommodation, hospitality, retail and most tourism activities can all be operated safely under level 2," TIA's chief executive Chris Roberts said.

Detailed guidelines of how tourism operators can work safely under level 2 will be shared with businesses as soon as possible, Roberts added.

While the announcement is a step in the right direction, it won't bring an end to the massive financial strain the tourism industry is under.

With no international travellers being allowed into New Zealand, TIA said the long-term survival of the industry will need to be addressed in the upcoming Budget.

"The industry now looks forward to next week's Budget announcements to hear what ongoing support the Government will provide to keep businesses and jobs in place until our international borders can reopen," Roberts said.

Air New Zealand's chief revenue officer Cam Wallace tweeted calling the announcement "very encouraging."

The New Zealand Aviation Coalition (NZAC) described the alert level 2 rules as positive and said they will save "thousands of jobs", but warned of more challenges ahead for air travel.

"It's so important that people can start moving around the country under level 2. They need to be able to visit relatives and loved ones, do business, reconnect with families - there are so many reasons," NZAC chair Justin Tighe-Umbers said.

"It is also important to remember that every day without leisure travel costs our tourism businesses $50 million." 

But the level 2 rules won't mean every plane is back in the air on every domestic and regional route immediately.

"Like any business, the cost of providing services has to be considered. For airlines, flying half empty planes is just not feasible for long or they will not survive," Tighe-Umbers said.

Air NZ is expected to announce an adjusted schedule for its domestic and regional services soon.