The first cruise ship to visit New Zealand since the pandemic’s start arrived on Friday, marking an awaited return to normalcy for the country’s tourism industry and resetting the country’s tourism priorities.
To stop the spread of COVID-19 and eventually eradicate it, New Zealand closed its borders in early 2020. In May this year, the country allowed most tourists to enter by plane again, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that all restrictions were relaxed, including those for arrivals by sea.
The cruise business is perplexed as to what took so long.
With the lifting of the ban, the Carnival Australia cruise ship Pacific Explorer arrived in Auckland on Friday morning, bringing 2,000 passengers and staff members on a 12-day roundtrip from Sydney to Fiji.
“Amazing, wouldn’t you say?” Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash said during an interview. It’s a big deal because we can return to business as usual and reopen our borders.
Nash predicted it would be some time before the tourism industry recovered to its pre-pandemic levels, contributing 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and over 5% of GDP.
I think many people in the tourism industry have worked extremely hard over the past two years,” Nash remarked. However, we have always taken the stance that it is of paramount importance to provide an appropriate health response and because we know the stakes are high if we don’t.”
Not everybody is happy with the return of tourists. A sailboat carrying protesters upset about the industry’s impact on the environment followed the Pacific Explorer into the harbour before passengers were greeted with an Indigenous Māori welcome and a visit by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Nash said that the pause in tourism had allowed the country to reevaluate its goals. One of these was to target more affluent “high quality” tourists who would spend more time there and take home interesting stories.
According to Nash, “We are not targeting the guys that come over and put up on Facebook, ‘Hey, travel through New Zealand for $10 a day living on two-minute noodles.
He added that another objective was to change the general public’s conception of the industry as one where workers endured long hours for poor pay and instead portray it as a desirable and financially rewarding industry.
Nash predicted that tourism numbers could remain low for a while due to increased flying costs and travel safety precautions due to the pandemic, but that the industry will make a full recovery in the long run.
According to him, the United States is an important market for New Zealand. “In the United States, $2 trillion has been saved on top of the $1 trillion that would have been saved if COVID hadn’t been a factor. Okay, so there’s a tiny sum of cash in circulation.