New Zealand to ‘welcome the world back’ as tourism restarts

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday that her country is “ready to welcome the world back” and that most tourists are allowed to return by May as the country continues to ease its coronavirus restrictions.

The announcement brought forward the date that tourists from countries including the United States, Canada, Britain and much of Europe can visit from the previously announced October date.

International tourism accounted for around 20% of New Zealand’s overseas revenue and over 5% of GDP.

But when the pandemic started, New Zealand implemented some of the toughest border controls in the world and tourism evaporated. The measures were initially credited with saving thousands of lives and enabling New Zealand to eliminate or contain several outbreaks.

But with the omicron variant now spreading across the country, border restrictions have become largely unnecessary.

Ardern said the move would boost the economy.

“Closing our border was one of the first steps we took to stop COVID-19 more than two years ago, and reopening it will boost our economic recovery throughout the year.” she declared.

Under the new schedule, Australian tourists will be able to visit from April 12 and tourists from other visa-exempt countries will be able to visit from May 1. Tourists from non-exempt countries – including India and China – will have to wait longer, unless they already have valid visitor visas.

Tourists must be vaccinated and test negative for the virus before leaving their home country and again after arriving in New Zealand.

“I know from visiting tour operators and talking to their staff how difficult the past two years have been,” Ardern said. “And not just because of the massive loss of tourism revenue, but because we’ve lost something from which we derived so much of our identity.”

New Zealand is renowned for its stunning scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure tourism. The announcement comes as a timely boost for ski areas trying to plan for the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter.

“Tour operators finally have confirmation that they can resume operations,” said Ann-Marie Johnson, spokeswoman for Tourism Industry Aotearoa. “Tourism was the first industry to be hit by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. Tourism operators large and small have made huge sacrifices but can now focus on rebuilding their businesses.”

For the past two weeks, New Zealand has reported around 20,000 new cases of the virus every day, its biggest outbreak since the pandemic began. National COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday became the latest high-profile person to test positive.

But experts expect the omicron outbreak to fade quickly after its peak, as it has in many other countries.

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