Fiji delighted to welcome travellers back after COVID cut it off from world

No MIQ restrictions for returning Kiwis means New Zealanders can travel again.

And Fiji is delighted to welcome back travellers after COVID cut the islands off from the rest of the world, grinding its economy to a halt.

Elayna Eyre flew for 16 years before COVID forced her to take a break. The tourism economy vanished overnight. But in December the country reopened for visitors.

"When the ad came out I applied straight away," she says.

This is the first flight from New Zealand to Nadi since Kiwis were able to travel without having to quarantine when they return. But still rows of seats remain empty.

The first to visit are those returning home, excited to catch up with friends and family. They received a royal welcome - it's been years since locals could greet visitors.

Kiwi tourism operator Brad Rutherford is also relieved New Zealanders can finally travel.

"Just in time for peak season which starts in April, we're in for a strong recovery across 2022," he says.

For 20 months his boats have been docked.

"We had to effectively suspend our operation, downsize our business," he says.

So far 66 countries have been approved to travel without having to quarantine in Fiji.

The first to arrive were Aussies who account for 50 percent of the tourism market. Fijians are glad to have people back because without tourists there are little to no jobs for Fijians.

"I was the only breadwinner that was working, we had to actually start planting outside to get food because earning last year was hard. We had to struggle so much to earn because most of the tourist industry was shut down," one says.

As Kiwis get wind of freedom, hoteliers are starting to notice a spike in bookings.

"I wouldn't say pre-COVID numbers but we're looking about 70-75 percent," says Fiji Accor area general manager Vincent Macquet.

"It's been challenging. It's been a long tunnel land we've got a light at the end and it's a shining light," Rutherford adds.

Because despite the rain the sun is starting to shine on Fiji again.