Coronavirus: Tourism operators hopeful border reopening dates will be brought forward

Tourism operators are hoping the Government's border announcement on Wednesday will give greater clarity on when New Zealand can expect foreign visitors to return. 

Newshub understands the next phases of the border reopening are set to be brought forward to April.

It's understood the reopening will still be done in phases, with Australian tourists allowed in first from mid-April. 

Tourists from other countries New Zealand has visa waiver arrangements with like the United Kingdom and the United States will be allowed in a few weeks after Australians, followed by a third phase that allows visitors from all other countries. 

It is understood the new dates will be announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday afternoon. 

Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson told AM if that's true it will be a huge relief for tourism businesses. 

"I think the entire industry is on tenterhooks wanting to know when the date is going to be. Certainly, our best hope would be that we could open up to get the Australians in here for their school holidays which are in April and that, of course, takes in Easter as well. 

"So really hoping that speculation has some basis to it. Failing that it would be great to get Australians in here for the ski season," Johnson said. 

But she warned only a trickle of tourists are expected at the start as people will need to grow confidence in international travel again. 

"I think the best we can expect is a trickle [of tourists] for a start. Today's announcement will really help to give people confidence that they can plan ahead and make their bookings, but we don't expect to see any significant number of visitors from the rest of the world until next summer. 

"But if they can make their plans now, that will give our operators confidence that they can make plans for their businesses and gear up again in time for next summer."

Johnson said the other concern will be whether enough businesses and staff remain in the industry to accommodate future tourists. 

"We know that some businesses certainly have gone into hibernation and are planning to reopen but a lot of people have moved into other jobs... so we may have lost some of those operators and employees for good. But we really hope that they will see a future in the industry and come back to us."

Tourists have essentially been banned from the country since March 2020, when COVID-19 first hit our shores and the borders slammed shut. 

They re-opened briefly for the trans-Tasman bubble in 2021 when Australians could enter but closed quickly when the Delta outbreak started in August. 

The much-anticipated reopening dates come after New Zealand recorded 21,616 new COVID cases on Tuesday. There were also 960 people in hospital, 22 in ICU and two deaths. 

Cases at the border have been in stark contrast with New Zealand averaging just 18.1 COVID cases a day in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) over the last week.