Gradual signs of a return of overseas visitors could set the stage for a busy winter in Central Otago and the Lakes district.
It has been a long time coming, but when the transtasman travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia opens next Monday not everyone will be lining up to take advantage of it.
While some are delighted at this first step back to international travel, others are cautious about what it means to open up New Zealand to Australia while the Covid-19 pandemic is still a challenge worldwide.
When announcing quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said success in managing Covid-19 and keeping it out over the past 12 months had opened up the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and resume transtasman travel.
“One sacrifice that has been particularly hard for many to bear over the past year has been the separation from friends and family who live in Australia,’’ she said.
The transtasman travel bubble would give the economic recovery a boost and represented a world-leading arrangement of safely opening up international travel while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and keeping the virus out.
“Quarantine-free travel will not be what it was pre-Covid-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of ‘flyer beware’.
‘‘People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak,’’ she said.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said it was estimated the bubble would free up 1000 to 1300 rooms per fortnight within managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
“Of these, we will retain roughly 500 spaces as contingency should they be needed for the transtasman arrangement.
“We also have a small number of facilities that we consider to have only been suitable for travellers in quarantine from low risk countries. With the opening of travel, we will look to decommission these facilities — but in the meantime we are considering whether they could be used for other low risk countries, such as the Pacific Islands.
“As a result of this, we do not anticipate a large number of vacant quarantine spaces to come on stream. There will, however, still be thousands of spaces in MIQ for Kiwis. That’s how we have helped 130,000 safely return home through our managed isolation facilities.”
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said international tourism only accounted for about 2% of Central Otago’s gross domestic product (GDP).
‘‘And much of that has been picked up by New Zealanders who have been travelling just a little bit further than the places they traditionally came to.’’
However, so long as it was done safely it would be ‘‘great to see the Australians coming back’’, he said.
‘‘They love Central Otago, they love the trails and they love popping over here when they are not skiing in Queenstown or Wanaka.’’
Mr Cadogan did not expect there would be Australians travelling to the region for seasonal work, ‘‘but if there is, we will take them’’.
If the transtasman bubble did free up MIQ spaces for Pacific Island workers to get into the country, that would be ‘‘very, very helpful’’ as Central Otago horticulture and viticulture industries continued to find it challenging to find seasonal workers.
‘‘But we will wait and see if that is the case.’’
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he ‘‘could not be happier’’ on learning quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia would start next week.
He had been in touch with many Australian media organisations and said ‘‘they are ready to come’’.
Mr Boult said he had been given assurances by public health authorities ‘‘all steps’’ would be taken to ensure there was minimal risk to the community at large, and vulnerable people, particularly.
— Additional reporting Otago Daily Times