New Zealand is rolling out the “green and gold carpet”, prioritising Australians as it welcomes foreigners and tourists back from next month.
Fully vaccinated Australians will be able to fly in and out of the country without quarantining or isolating from April 13.
“We are a safe place to visit and New Zealand will be ready with open arms,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday, promising there would be no backtracking on the timetable.
“We are reopening and I’m asking our Australian family and friends to book their tickets.”
After two years with tight border restrictions, NZ began to dismantle its hard borders as Omicron surged across the country earlier this month.
New Zealand reported 19,542 COVID cases on Wednesday. It is believed to be a few days past the peak of its Omicron outbreak.
There was also a record 24 virus-related deaths – although some had happened in the previous three weeks. The country’s COVID toll stands at 141.
Kiwis abroad and critical workers were the first to be able to dodge a spell in hotel quarantine when the country shook up its border arrangements.
Next will come Australian travellers, who will be allowed to do the same from 11.59pm on April 12.
Those from visa waiver countries and holding valid visitor visas will can follow from from 11.59pm on May 1.
All travellers must be fully vaccinated, and abide by COVID-19 regulations.
That includes a negative supervised rapid antigen test on departure, and two subsequent tests on arrival, provided to arriving travellers for free.
Ms Ardern said the testing regime struck a balance so tourists could still “experience the sights and sounds immediately”.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash beamed at the announcement, calling it the best day for Kiwi tourism in two years.
“We are really rolling out the green and gold carpet and in time for the Australian school holidays,” he said.
“We have missed you.”
The announcement is music to the ears of the decimated local tourism and events industry.
Trans-Tasman businessman Quentin Nolan is one of many eager to see a reopening schedule stick.
He is the man behind Snow Machine, a Queenstown music festival bringing big name Australian acts such as The Avalanches and The Presets to New Zealand for a winter party on snow.
The inaugural festival was postponed last year when the trans-Tasman bubble was suspended, and then cancelled altogether when it became clear the bubble wasn’t returning in 2021.
“It’s something we’ve been planning for a number of years … and we had to refund everyone which was pretty brutal. We did take a serious hit,” Mr Nolan said.
He is determined to plug on in 2022, bringing a popular northern hemisphere concept to NZ’s hard-hit ski town.
“It’s pretty brutal. There’s more vacant shops in Queenstown I’ve ever seen. So many businesses have gone broke in the last six months,” he said.
“An April opening would be great for confidence.”
Tourism Industry Aotearoa spokeswoman Ann-Marie Johnson was thrilled by the announcement.
“After around 730 days of pain in the two years since our international borders closed, tourism operators finally have confirmation they can get back to business,” she said.
Australian visitors make up the largest number of travellers to NZ each year, numbering 1.5 million in 2019.
TIA believes it will be 2024 before trans-Tasman travellers return to that figure.
Ms Ardern was also looking forward to hearing stories of reconnections.
“The most poignant moments in reopening to the world so far have surely been those when family and friends are reunited,” she said.
“It has been particularly timely to see that and feel grateful for it, in light of events we are all bearing witness to around the world.”
– with AAP