Mark April 12 and May 1 on the calendar.
Wanaka tourism operators have between four and six weeks to get their wheels back on, prime their engines and get the local economy moving again.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week announced border reopening dates so vaccinated Australians can be here for Easter and vaccinated travellers from visa waiver countries can land before Mother’s Day.
Covid-19 testing requirements for travellers remain, and so do challenging business conditions.
“There is a weight off their shoulders, that’s for certain, even though financially their situations did not change between 9am and midday. There is a glimmer at the end of the tunnel and we hope it is not a train,” Lake Wanaka Tourism (LWT) general manager Tim Barke said.
Wanaka tourism businesses have been calling for definite dates so they can rebuild workforces and prepare to start up again.
“They really have been gasping for air for the last two years. This has given them some certainty to reinvest in getting businesses back up and running and getting some revenue coming in.”
Wanaka has been quiet for months due to Covid-19 restrictions.
There has been a choice of main street car parks and some cafes have introduced 3pm closings.
Backpackers have closed, tourism operators have been hibernating, people are selling boats, caravans and cars, and the seasonal labour force has vanished.
Mr Barke said LWT had not collected data on business sales, liquidations or hibernations.
“I know some lodges have been sold and the new owners are using them as private residences.
. It is difficult because sometimes businesses don’t know themselves if they are closed for good or would be able to start again.”
Mr Barke said he was pleased the prime minister had heard “what were loud and clear messages from multiple directions”.
He believed the Government had looked at and learned from other countries who had already opened up and had taken advice from officials that once New Zealand got through the peak of Omicron, there were fewer benefits from remaining closed.
Although there were still Covid-19 risks at the border, it was now more likely people would catch it in the community than from a vaccinated and Covid-tested traveller from overseas, he said.
For businesses, the first priority between now and April 12 would be to weigh up how many staff were needed, then recruit and train them.
The second step was to look at operating capital and whether the business was fit to operate.
The third step was to attract business.
It would really help to get travellers on working visas from the UK, North America, Canada, Australia and Europe, he said.
Despite ongoing uncertainty, there was determination.
“We absolutely will get through and build back better, and we will have the tools to be as resilient as possible.”
Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry said the opening of the border to Australians without the requirement to self-isolate “is a vital step towards the region’s recovery”.
He expects to see a gradual return of direct flights from the east coast of Australia to Queenstown over the next two months, before a busy ski season.
Destination Queenstown (DQ) board chairman Richard Thomas said “this is the best news”.
DQ went live with consumer marketing activity in the Australian market from last Friday.