1971 vs 2021: New Zealand marks lowest international travel numbers in 50 years due to COVID-19

Keith Holyoake, NAC and KFC.
Keith Holyoake, NAC and KFC. Photo credit: Getty Images

The year was 1971: The prime minister was Keith Holyoake, Pukemanu was ground-breaking television, KFC opened its first store in New Zealand and it was the last time Aotearoa's inbound tourism numbers were as low as they were in 2021.

Information released by Stats NZ reveals the number of people crossing New Zealand's border in 2021 was the lowest it has been in 50 years.

There were 826,400 border crossings in 2021, made up of 398,600 arrivals and 427,800 departures. 

The first KFC in New Zealand opened in Royal Oak.
The first KFC in New Zealand opened in Royal Oak. Photo credit: Twitter.com/RoyalOakNZ

In 1971, visitors to Aotearoa would have been flying domestically with NAC, the National Airways Corporation on its fleet of Fokker F27 Friendships - very early versions of the Boeing 737 or the Vickers Viscount 807.

National Airways Corporation (NAC)
National Airways Corporation (NAC) Photo credit: Air New Zealand

While tourism numbers were low, everyone was talking about LA International Airport: A hit song by Susan Raye that was top of the charts that year.

And although people weren't racing in to New Zealand in huge numbers, it was the first year Kiwis watched the Melbourne Cup live as the first sporting event broadcast via satellite after the opening of the Warkworth satellite station.

Pre-COVID-19, the total number of border crossings reached 14.2 million in 2019.

"COVID-19 related border and travel restrictions were in place throughout 2021, keeping traveller numbers low," population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

"Travel bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands in the middle of the year saw numbers lift, before travel bubbles popped in mid-August. Over three-quarters of trips made in 2021 took place during the months of April to August, while the travel bubbles were in effect."

United Airlines has ordered supersonic jets.
United Airlines has ordered supersonic jets. Photo credit: United Airlines

In 50 years time, numbers will likely be quite different. Aotearoa’s population is estimated to be around 8.5 million by then and tourism will (hopefully) be well and truly skyrocketing, perhaps with supersonic planes arriving in Auckland after a 90 minute flight from LA International Airport.