Almost two years after the COVID-19 pandemic first closed Aotearoa's borders, 900 New Zealanders from around the globe are expected to touch down at Auckland Airport tomorrow to waiting friends and family.
At the same time, Kiwi travellers will be able to make up for lost time with around 120 overseas destinations now open to eligible New Zealand travellers without the barrier of self-isolation or MIQ stays upon their return.
"We're super excited to welcome Kiwis from across the world back home tomorrow and to see the buzz of international travel return to Auckland Airport," said the airport's general manager corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck.
"We also know revenge travel is now on the cards for thousands of Kiwis who are keen to get out and see the world again, visit friends and family overseas, or re-establish business and cultural connections. We're a nation of travellers - from our tūpuna to the great Kiwi OE, somehow striking out and voyaging is part of our DNA."
Pre-pandemic New Zealanders made around three million trips overseas every year, with around a quarter of us born overseas and an estimated one million living offshore.
On Saturday, Emirates and Singapore Airlines will be operating the first long-haul flights carrying passengers who won't need to quarantine or isolate, alongside Fiji Airways and Air New Zealand connecting from Fiji, with 34 long-haul flights expected over the coming week.
Tuck said Auckland Airport had communicated with many of its international airline customers over the past few days and the response was very positive to the removal of self-isolation and the likelihood that eligible international travellers will be able to come to New Zealand sooner than expected.
"They're in a key planning phase right now for their future schedules, particularly those airlines that only connect to New Zealand during our peak summer travel season. We've already seen Air New Zealand release its plans for restarting long-haul passenger services, plus LATAM Airlines has announced it will re-establish its connection between Santiago, Chile and Auckland at the end of March," she said.
"We expect the removal of self-isolation to be a big unlock for the international market eyeing up the trip of a lifetime and await the Government decisions on the timing of Steps 4 and 5 of New Zealand's reconnection plan."
Auckland Airport currently has 14 airlines operating international scheduled services to 25 destinations. That's down from the pre-pandemic level of 29 airlines, including seasonal carriers, heading to 43 international destinations.
With fewer borders closed, Kiwis can now travel to 120 countries around the world without the need to be isolated when they return home.
Tuck said any increase in flight movements into New Zealand would mean more options for travellers flying out.
"Even those who have needed to travel in the past couple of years will have found their choices were very limited. On a long-haul route like New Zealand, it's important for airlines to have balanced loads coming in and out, so they'll be looking to attract Kiwi travellers back," she said.