Tourism industry calls on Government to drop self-isolation requirement for travellers

Airlines and cruise companies plan their network months in advance.
Airlines and cruise companies plan their network months in advance. Photo credit: Getty Images

The staged reopening of New Zealand's borders amid the COVID-19 pandemic announced by the Government on Thursday has received mostly positive feedback from the travel and tourism industries, but some organisations say ditching the requirement of travellers to isolate at home is key to the tourism industry making any progress.

The five-step opening starts later this month when fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travellers will be able to skip MIQ and instead self-isolate for at least a week. The final step is scheduled for October, when the Government says the border will "fully reopen to visitors from anywhere in the world".

NZ Airports called the announcement an "important first step in reopening the border", but said the requirement for travellers to self-isolate upon arrival will "prevent any meaningful recovery in demand for travel to New Zealand".

Kevin Ward, Chief Executive of NZ Airports, said there will be many families who will be delighted by today's announcement and the aviation industry is looking forward to welcoming New Zealanders home.

"We are really pleased for Kiwis who have been stuck overseas and want to return home, however the continuing requirement for self-isolation means New Zealand will remain essentially off the map for international travellers and many airlines. People do not want to fly to New Zealand if they have to spend their first week sitting in a hotel."

Analysis by Auckland Airport has shown that a continued isolation requirement will have a significant negative impact on Aotearoa's travel industry, with demand from Australian visitors excluding New Zealanders visiting friends and family estimated at just 7 percent of 2019 levels if the self-isolation requirement remains in place.

Ward called on the Government to keep reconsidering whether self-isolation is still appropriate before each stage of reopening commences, particularly before the reopening of trans-Tasman travel.

"A growing number of countries are allowing quarantine-free travel for qualified, fully vaccinated foreign travellers. Expecting self-isolation to still be required for travel to New Zealand later this year when the trans-Tasman market reopens makes no sense," he said.   

There was a similar reaction from Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) which said the Government must be prepared to remove self-isolation requirements "as soon as health risks lessen".

TIA spokesperson Ann-Marie Johnson says the staged opening of the border wasn't just good news for reconnecting friends and families, but for the return of visitors on working holiday visas, too.

"The Government's willingness to be flexible and remove self-isolation requirements ahead of schedule will be essential to the survival of the visitor economy. While these requirements are in place, New Zealand remains off the radar for international travellers," Johnson said.   

In a letter to Tourism Minister Stuart Nash earlier this week, TIA noted that quarantine-free travel should be possible within the second quarter of 2022, when the gravest dangers of the Omicron outbreak are predicted to have abated.  

"The single biggest issue for restarting international tourism is to remove the self-isolation requirements. Requiring international visitors to spend the first seven days in isolation will mean very limited arrivals. Most tourism operators will have to survive through another long winter before they can expect potential visitors," Johnson says.

TIA says the Government needs to be aware that airlines and cruise operators are part of global systems and need long lead times for scheduling and selling their routes and capacity.