Reconnecting NZ to the world: Tourism and travel pinpoint the secret to making it happen

Tourism and travel leaders are encouraged by the Government’s plans to reconnect with the world, but say the onus now goes on New Zealanders to get the Covid-19 jab.

The sectors have been hammered by the pandemic for the past 18 months and Tourism Export Council chief executive Lynda Keene said she was hopeful the framework would restore confidence in travel to this country.

”I’m feeling like there’s no closed doors to welcoming visitors back which is really encouraging – as long as New Zealand meets its vaccination goals and prospective travellers are meeting all the border requirements.”

Plans outlined by the Government would start with a trial this year of home isolation or shorter MIQ stays for selected travellers.

That would be followed by the phased resumption of quarantine-free travel in the future, although no firm times have been set.

The plan would eventually see three “pathways of travel” into New Zealand.

• For vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries, no isolation would be required.

• For vaccinated travellers from medium-risk countries (which would be subject to change) some isolation would be required – but it could be a shorter stay in MIQ or home isolation. A pilot will be run between October and December this year to trial that, and businesses and organisations which need to send staff overseas could apply.

• Unvaccinated travellers and all travellers from high-risk countries would still have to do 14 days in an MIQ facility.

Travel restrictions remain widespread in other countries. The website TravelBans.com’s latest tally has found 8039 restrictions for 243 countries and regions. Nearly all remain closed to tourism or have restrictions.

The Tourism Export Council’s members arrange travel packages to this country and Keene said she was hopeful that from the end of the first quarter next year, operators wouldbe able to welcome travellers from North America, followed by China and the Asia-Pacific region and then Britain and Europe.

Source markets with only one flight to New Zealand would be the first to come back and would then be followed by those that needed a transit stop.

”We support the Government’s phased plan because that’s also in line with our forecasting. We’re not out of the woods yet, there’s a lot of unknowns but overall there is a feeling there is interest from the Government that we will welcome visitors back early in the new year.”

The at-home quarantine trial for businesspeople was especially encouraging as it meant that before Christmas, inbound tourism operators might be able to get offshore and offer reassurance tooverseas partners.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran also put his weight behind the plan.

”It’s encouraging to see a clear pathway and milestones set out as to how we get back to international travel. We are supportive of the steps being taken by the New Zealand Government to reopen the border safely, including a phased approach, given there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for all countries.”

It was clear that vaccines and other innovations like digital health passports wouldplay an extremely important role in enabling borders to reopen, said Foran.

”We know New Zealanders want to travel – we’re seeing this across our domestic network and on services to Rarotonga.”

Subject to change

Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) is welcoming increased clarity around when and how the country will open up.

“It’s important to have a roadmap so all businesses, including tourism operators, can plan ahead and make informed decisions,” said TIA chief executive Chris Roberts.

Like Keene, he was at this morning’s Reconnecting New Zealanders with the World Forum.

“As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated, this plan is not absolute and could change, but it is important we have a plan based on what we currently know.”

The home quarantine trial this year was a positive move.

”While it provides no immediate tourism benefit, if it’s successful it will point the way to allowing travellers from low-risk countries to visit from 2022 without having to go into MIQ.”

Roberts said TIA was keen to work with the Government on developing a traveller health declaration system, which will involve pre-departure declarations and arrival checks for those wanting to come to New Zealand.

Right now, vaccination remained the key.

“The most important thing tourism businesses can do is encourage all their staff, family and friends to get vaccinated.”

The Travel Agents Association of NZ says while the sector had been especially hard-hit by the pandemic, the whole country needed a pathway to reopening.

”New Zealand Inc needs it – we’re a byproduct of that. What I think we’ll see is that when people get vaccinated, they will have the confidence to book travel for 2022 to other parts of the world,” said association president Brent Thomas.

”There are alot of positives – it is about New Zealanders getting their arms out there and getting vaccinated and we’re encouraging people to get that done.”

David Coombes, managing director ofFlight Centre NZ, said his firm was pleased to see some insight from the Government towards opening Aotearoa in the future.

”The safety of our customers and our people is our number one priority and so we support vaccination as a requirement to travel in the longer term. We will be advising our customers to vaccinate and are already actively supporting and encouraging Flight Centre employees to get their vaccinations too – allowing them time away from work to do so.”

Long and winding road

Coombes said the proposed path did, however, appear to be a long one, with no clear movement for at least six months.

”We would appreciate an estimated timeline, even if dates aren’t set in stone, so that as a business, we give more guidance to our many customers who are so eager to travel again and see loved ones abroad.”

The Hotel Council Aotearoa said the outline confirmed what it has been saying for months – there would be no quick return to pre-Covid conditions for tourism and travel.

”With today’s confirmation of continuing border restrictions into 2022 and beyond, the hotel sector calls for genuine engagement with government on significant ongoing issues facing our sector,” said the council’s strategic director James Doolan.

Issues include the ongoing lost revenue with borders closed, worker burnout, major labour shortages and local authorities unfairly targeting hotels and international travellers with new taxes and targeted rates.

”We are ready and willing to work productively with government on solving these problems for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster also wants continued engagement between the industry and the Government to ensure all systems are globally aligned to enable the most efficient travel flows possible.

He is also keen to see Tourism New Zealand’s mandate to encourage domestic travel this summer continued.

Passport out of here

The International Air Transport Association and global test lab company Synlab have a partnership allowing certified Covid-19 test results to feed directly into the association’s travel pass.

Through the Europe-basedtest company’s international network, travellers will have access to up to 450 testing labs and more than 1600 sample collection points across 36 countries, making travel even more hassle-free

The two organisations ran a successful pilot project for passenger testing in Colombia in recent months.

IATA’s Travel Pass – which has been trialled by Air New Zealand – will allow passengers to locate authorised laboratories at departure locations to get tested for Covid as required by border and health authorities.

After testing, Synlab will provide passengers with their certified test results directly through the pass.

The app checks the result against the Travel Pass registry of national entry requirements to produce an “OK to Travel” status.

Through the app, passengers can share their status and the digital test certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel.

The association says its travel pass applies the” highest data security standards”.

Authorised laboratories send Covid-19 test results to the passenger’s phone as a verifiable credential. This way, the pass prevents potential forgery of test results.

“Verified Covid-19 testing is critical to restore the freedom to travel for people who are not vaccinated,” saidIATA director-general Willie Walsh.

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