After one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, New Zealand is welcoming tourists from more than 50 countries this week. More than two years after the island nation of 5 million people closed itself to foreign visitors, New Zealand has opened to visa-waiver countries, provided that visitors are fully vaccinated and present negative COVID tests before entry.
“Today is a day to celebrate and is a big moment in our reconnection with the world,” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said as flights arrive from the U.S., Malaysia, and Singapore on Monday.
Tourism accounts for about 5% of the country’s economy, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said nearly 100,000 foreign visitors had booked flights since she announced the reopening.
“Our tourism industry have felt the effects of the global pandemic acutely, and are working hard to prepare,” she said.
More than 80% of New Zealand’s residents are vaccinated, a figure which played a big role in the decision to reopen. Ardern closed nearly all businesses and shut down most public activity in 2020, leading to a brief period where the country had zero reported COVID cases. As Kiwis began returning from abroad, cases spread in the community and the country entered a second lockdown period last August. As the highly contagious omicron variant spread, Ardern changed tack and abandoned the zero-COVID strategy.
Travelers from Australia started arriving to New Zealand three weeks ago, and the countries are set to be co-hosts for the Women’s World Cup in July and August of next year.
“People haven’t seen each other for a long, long time – family and friends,” Nash told 1News. “We have also, of course, got international businesspeople (who) are able to reconnect and they are coming back.”
The opening comes in time for winter ski season in the Southern Alps, and New Zealand hopes to have a full schedule of events by the Christmas and summer holiday season.