We can finally welcome back tourists, but do they want to come? We hit the streets of London to ask.
London-based architect Philip Graham would love to come to New Zealand to see the mountains – but the 42-year-old has reservations.
The distance, yes, and climate concerns, too. But Graham also points to a changing perception of New Zealand, and the bad press it’s received overseas.
Prior to Covid, Graham had the impression New Zealand was a chilled out place. The strict lockdown measures had changed that.
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“There was a sense that people had over here, that it was even more hysterical than it was here,” he says.
“I think people were angry enough here, especially in London, that it didn’t give a very good impression to anyone possibly wanting to go there.”
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed the borders at the start of the pandemic two years ago, she described it as going hard and fast to keep Covid-19 out.
And for the most part it worked, giving Kiwis some Covid-free time until we were all vaccinated – and new variants like Delta and Omicron reared their head.
Now, the Government will open the border to vaccinated Australian tourists from 11.59pm on April 12 with no isolation required on arrival, and tourists from visa-waiver countries like the United States and UK will be able to arrive from 11.59pm on May 1.
But the flood of tourism we were used to may be a thing of the past. New Zealand’s tough Covid-19 restrictions and the distance, coupled with the perception that the country could just slam its border shut again, was putting people off. Would-be tourists Stuff spoke to in London on Friday were reluctant.
“It’s quite far, so it seems as though it would be quite challenging to get to during Covid,” says Lyndsey Kotchapaw, who is a Canadian on a working holiday in London.
She lived with two Kiwis and their photos of home presented New Zealand as an attractive place to visit, and a place that was on her radar, if not now, then in the future..
“Just in terms of how difficult it would be to get there, but I think it would be something that, once things are a bit more simple to actually get there, I think it would be something I would consider.”
Kotchapaw hadn’t been following the border restrictions closely but was aware of Kiwis having issues trying to get back to their families.
“It seems sad that it’s been so closed, it’s unfortunate.”
The same sentiment rang true for architecture student Ella Jin that perhaps she’d come here “after Covid”.
“I heard that at the start of the pandemic, New Zealand stopped flights coming in, is that true? It would put me off for now, but maybe after Covid, I’d still go.
“The sea and the beach is a pull, and if I could, I’d like to take a road trip there, driving around the coast and maybe surfing or diving.”
Model Sam Monroe didn’t know anything about the border restrictions that had been in place but was familiar with New Zealand after meeting Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick when he did work for Patagonia.
“I’d go there. It looks good, it looks really nice. I’d go if it’s hot,” the 21-year-old said.
The weather made Edelyn Tirado consider a trip to Aotearoa, too, as she said the weather in London was terrible.
The 35-year-old, originally from the Philippines, had never looked into traveling to New Zealand, but a few of her friends had visited, and she had heard good things.
“Mainly the heat and the atmosphere my friends have told me about, apparently it’s very friendly, so it would be nice to visit.”
For 31-year-old Australian Stephen Gray, who is living in London, New Zealand’s Covid response wouldn’t stop him from traveling here.
“As far as I know, they’ve been taking the measures necessary to protect the country as needed.
“Much better than they have been doing here.”
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash is more optimistic, but agreed that in a world still battling Covid-19, travelers will be discerning about where they go in the short term. But, he said Government marketing via Tourism NZ had kept New Zealand’s brand alive internationally during the last two years.
“We have invested more than $100 million in the agency. They advise that New Zealand remains desirable in the minds of international tourists – and this is incredibly important.”
Tourism NZ had also invested heavily to linkup and train 80,000 foreign travel agents about how to connect with NZ tourist operators in the past two years.
Nash said this week there had been a noticeable increase in demand for airline travel from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany, and that the way New Zealand handled the pandemic was a competitive advantage over other travel destinations.
“It has reinforced our international image as a nation that cares about people.”
Nash said the return of tourists was expected to be a slow burn and would be measured.
The first few months it was expected people would travel mainly to connect with friends or family, and then that it would pick up for winter holidays, ski tourism, and summer 2022/23.
“It’s also worth remembering the months of May to October were traditionally the quietest time for international travel to New Zealand, pre-Covid.”
House of Travel chief operating officer Brent Thomas said what was really holding visitors back was the testing requirements to get in.
Tourists will need to be vaccinated and test negative in a pre-departure test, which could be a PCR test or supervised LAMP test or RAT.
They will be provided with RATs on arrival and need to take a test on arrival and on day five or six.
Thomas said there were a number of countries that had removed testing requirements and made themselves much more desirable to tourists.
“New Zealand is still a bucket list destination for a lot of people, it’s still a beautiful country with a lot ot offer. We just need to make it easier for them to get here.”