NZ opens back up... does it?
Yesterday was 616 days since the NZ Borders were slammed shut to protect us from Covid-19.
Or 1 year, 8 months, 6 days. Or 20 months, 6 days including yesterday.
Throughout this whole time, tourism has joined with many other industry groups to call for a plan. We wanted to see how New Zealand would eventually emerge from the global pandemic when it was deemed safe to do so. We've had announcements of announcements (too many to count now) and at times it has felt like tourism was the forgotten child. We were seemingly dismissed by ministers and told to simply 'pivot or die'.
Now I am not going to argue that our strategy of putting health first has made an enormous difference to NZ, and I am happy that was the choice that was made. Watching what friends and family overseas have gone through hasn't been pleasant and I'm glad that New Zealand has avoided that for the most part.
We thanked our Auckland mates for staying home (101 days and counting) to give the rest of us time to be vaccinated but the majority of the country has heeded the call and run off to the vaccination hubs to get our two shots/jabs/dots.
We are becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world which certainly helps protect us from those 'risky*' people coming from overseas (*not my words!). We have seen ZERO positive cases come across the border from Australia in the past three months. Surely having fully vaccinated, negative test arrivals offers little in terms of risk to New Zealand now?
So yesterday, when an announcement was made that FINALLY included some dates, and something that finally resembled some kind of plan as we know them, I did a little dance for joy. For purely selfish reasons, I am happy. I can now go and visit my family in Australia without having to struggle with the lottery of finding an MIQ space. But is the announcement the silver bullet we were all looking for?
On the surface, it looks promising. But the devil is always in the detail. And I'm not sure that this will help our industry that much at all.... unless of course, the details change between now and the planned dates. It's absolutely great for VFR (Visiting Friends & Relatives), and reuniting families. I would have no problem at all self-isolating at home for 7 days upon my return. There also doesn't seem to be really strict criteria attached to that - sure, I have to stay home, but my husband is free to come and go as he likes so therefore the 'logistics' are made a whole lot easier. The same could probably be said for kiwis returning home from overseas - you seem to be able to 'hang out at home' with your family while you isolate for the week.
But visitors? That's a whole different kettle of fish. The average length stay in NZ by Australians is a tad over 9 days. That's been relatively constant for many years - in fact, if anything it has been declining. So who is going to come for their annual holiday if they have to stay inside for 78% of it?
Looking at the reaction from some of our overseas partners overnight, this news hasn't been celebrated as much as we would have hoped for an 'opening' announcement. In fact, I'm seeing groups cancel NZ and visit Australia instead. It's still all just a bit 'hard' to include New Zealand at this point. Sure, there might be some exceptions, but this plan doesn't have me celebrating the renewal of tourism just yet.
The biggest risk that I see however, is the exodus of kiwis overseas. It's now so much easier for us to leave New Zealand and come back - most countries welcome us without any quarantine or isolation required so what will that mean for our domestic market? With effectively one-way travel OUT of New Zealand, we could be in for a rough ride for a little while longer yet....