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Editorial

Queenstown faces an ongoing crisis with current border approach

November 29 2021 by David Gibbs

Queenstown faces an ongoing crisis with current border approach

What a difference two days can make. On Friday there was near universal outrage at the Government’s decision around a slow, staged re-opening of the international border. Also, on Friday no-one had heard of the word Omicron, the name of the new and potentially more virulent variant of Covid.

The speed with which the variant has made its way from Africa to Europe and Australia is astounding and we’ve yet to see the effectiveness of the vaccines against it. Equally fast has been the government response in those countries in cutting flights and re-imposing self-isolation for arrivals. All sensible precautions while epidemiologists learn more.

It’s starting to look like our Government’s approach to re-opening might be sensible. However, the countries who have already opened up have said their new precautions are temporary while they understand more about Omicron. Their commitment to moving forward to living with this virus and remaining connected to the world, remains.

We should be doing the same. Tourism has historically been one of New Zealand’s biggest income earners and is going to be a non-starter under the current policy.

Australia recognises it has to live with the virus and remain open to the rest of the world and, while currently slightly ahead of NZ for the proportion of their total population who are double vaccinated, they will soon be able to travel to places like Bali, Hawaii, Fiji and Singapore.

However, they won’t be able to come to Queenstown until 30 April next year, and even then, they will have to stay in self-isolation for seven days.

No Australian family will spend a week of their precious hard-earned holiday isolating for 7 days in NZ, when they can travel without restriction elsewhere. It will be the same for visitors from other countries, except those coming to see family.

NZ’s tourism industry, particularly in Queenstown, therefore faces an existential crisis.

The Government is sending a signal to the world and tourism industry that despite our high vaccination rates, NZ will remain functionally closed to international tourists for a long time to come.

The intent is caution and getting NZ back on its domestic travel feet before opening up internationally but the framework will not just affect the next 5 months, it will affect the ski season and beyond in our region.

The situation is precarious for many local tourism businesses who have managed to hang on since the pandemic began, but are now giving up as other parts of the world reopen and our country shows no sign of doing so for a very long time to come. The income earned from tourism these businesses desperately need, but also the country desperately needs.

We need to have a better plan and a faster response allowing fully vaccinated and tested Australians back to Queenstown must be a crucial part of that plan.

David Gibbs
Queenstown Media Group

- David Gibbs