Tourism bookings reach near pre-COVID levels as operators gear up for school holidays

Tourism operators are gearing up for the busiest school holidays since the start of the pandemic. 

Some say it's a relief after a quiet couple of years but they're hoping for more local support. 

It's been a tough few years but tourism operators can finally breathe a little easier.

"Things are coming back strong and we're definitely ready, and the whole community is ready for some good and for some happy times," said Kaituna Cascades Rafting co-owner Peter Lodge.

He said it was a struggle keeping his rafting business afloat during COVID-19 but with a rush of bookings this school holidays and the lifting of the borders, they're busier than they had expected.

"One hundred Australians through the door in the last couple of months. People from Canada, North America, even from the UK," he said.

Business is also getting back to normal for Air New Zealand

Chief executive Greg Foran said there are 672,000 people travelling across its network in the next two weeks, with Kiwis heading abroad and tourists visiting too. 

"That's about 80 percent in total of what we were doing pre-COVID. Domestically it actually works out to be 100 percent," Foran said.

Friday was forecast to be the busiest day of the school holidays for travellers. 

"Very busy, obviously going into Dunedin for the [All Blacks rugby] test match and, of course, Queenstown has become quite a hit domestically and internationally," Foran said.

But it's been a slower start to the holidays for those further north. 

"Rotorua is not full, there are still lots of rooms for activities and accommodation, and the domestic support is so important and we really appreciate it," Canopy Tours general manager Paul Button said.

Canopy Tours said there are 5 percent fewer bookings compared with pre-COVID times but it's an improvement from last year when they had 50 percent fewer bookings. 

"[It] feels a lot better to be in this position than not knowing if the business is going to survive for the next three months," Button said.

He said there's a sense of relief among operators who can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.