New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has begun her billion-dollar sales pitch to Australians, hoping for a big flow of visitors once the trans-Tasman bubble opens.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have absolutely missed you,” Ms Ardern said in a Wednesday morning appearance on Nine’s Today show.
“We want you to come and see us again. Distance makes the heart grow fonder; that’s definitely the case for us here.”
On Tuesday, Ms Ardern announced quarantine-free flights for Australians would be allowed to land in New Zealand from April 19.
The decision brings New Zealand into line with Australia’s border settings and means people can move freely between the two countries for the first time since the onset of COVID-19.
In a late-night Instagram video on Tuesday, Ms Ardern invited expats home and Australians to visit.
“If you are in Australia … come on over!” she said cheerily.
“Come and see us. New Zealand is a beautiful country and one of the things we miss the most is our ability to share it with you.
“We’d love to see you.”
As expected, demand for travel is strong.
Air New Zealand reported a record sales day for trans-Tasman flights on Tuesday, even though the bubble was confirmed only at 4pm (NZ time).
Ms Ardern continued her charm offensive with more Australian radio and TV interviews on Wednesday.
On South Australian radio station FIVEaa, she accepted a tasting battle for the best pinot noir, confidently saying “I am happy to have a contest”.
But there was a note of caution when she appeared on Seven’s Sunrise. Ms Ardern repeated she was “looking forward” to welcoming Aussies back to New Zealand, but warned the country’s border could slam shut again if there was a COVID outbreak on this side of the Tasman.
“If you have an outbreak in one state, we may pause or suspend travel for a period of time coming out of that state into New Zealand,” she said.
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NZ’s decision to open its border to Australians was green-lit by government health officials and welcomed by opposition parties, scientific experts and business groups.
The country’s tourism industry – which minister Stuart Nash said contracted by 16 per cent in 2020 – is particularly relieved.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa boss Chris Roberts said businesses could start to “take bookings with confidence and scale up their staffing”.
“It also means marketing campaigns to the Aussies can go ahead,” he said.
Australians are the lifeblood of New Zealand’s tourism industry.
More than 1.5 million Australians travelled to NZ in 2019, the last year uninterrupted by COVID-19.
Together, they spent $NZ2.74 billion ($A2.5 billion), representing more than a quarter of NZ’s total international tourist take.
Ms Ardern believes the bubble could bring about $NZ2 billion ($A1.84 billion) in 2021 alone, with New Zealand’s COVID-free status the key selling point.
“The first thing that I will say is that we are safe, and we cannot underestimate how important it is in this COVID-19 world,” she said.
“Secondly, we’re fast approaching ski season. I know that’s something that Australians love to partake in and that’s rapidly coming upon us.
“Even if you’re not a skier, I cannot begin with a list of beautiful places that we have to visit.
“It is ultimately a change of scene that so many have been looking for … now you have the option, come and see us.”