Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) is urging the Government to update its plans for reopening New Zealand's borders after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 changed the game.
TIA says it's making the call following Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's recent comments that Cabinet would be considering changes to the current border settings in the coming weeks, after the phased reopening announced in November was put on hold due to the Omicron outbreak in New Zealand.
"The previous plan was developed to respond to Delta, not Omicron. If Omicron becomes endemic in New Zealand, there will be no health reason to keep our borders closed or to continue self-isolation or MIQ for international arrivals," TIA spokeswoman Ann-Marie Johnson said.
Just days before Christmas, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the start of non-MIQ travel would be pushed out until the end of February 2022.
"COVID-19 keeps throwing new curve balls and we have to respond in a way that continues to protect lives and livelihoods without putting in place restrictions and lockdowns unless absolutely necessary," Hipkins said.
"Waiting till the end of February will increase New Zealand's overall protection and slow Omicron's eventual spread."
In a statement, TIA says quarantine-free travel is key to attracting international manuhiri back to New Zealand.
"The tourism industry's recovery cannot begin until New Zealand's borders reopen to international arrivals without isolation or quarantine requirements," Johnson said.
"International airlines are currently finalising their schedules for our 2022-23 summer. They need an indication of the plan to reopen our borders by mid-February or there is a strong risk New Zealand will lose quality international air connections, delaying the recovery further."
TIA says international trends show that the peak of the Omicron outbreak should pass within two or three months - so the Government should be planning now to reopen the borders at that time, Johnson said.
"We know that both New Zealanders and tourism operators will face tough times in the next few months so the time for planning for the recovery is now. We need a clear Omicron border opening plan. We believe that enough is known about how the pandemic will play out to justify serious work to develop the plan," she said.
"We can manage who comes across the border more easily than we can manage the behaviour and decisions of our own population, and therefore international arrivals should pose a small and manageable risk.
"We know it will be a step-by-step process but the best way to get moving on the road ahead is to have a plan in place for reopening Aotearoa New Zealand's borders as soon as the controls are no longer serving the key purpose of protecting New Zealanders."