WELLINGTON: New Zealand welcomed the first cruise ship to return since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, signaling a long-awaited return to normalcy for the country’s tourism industry.
New Zealand closed its borders in early 2020 as it first sought to completely eliminate Covid-19 and then later to control its spread. Although the country reopened its borders to most tourists arriving by air in May, it was only two weeks ago that it lifted all remaining restrictions, including those on sea arrivals.
Many in the cruise industry wonder why it took so long.
The end of authorized restrictions carnival australiait is Pacific Explorer cruise ship to dock in Auckland with around 2,000 passengers and crew on Friday morning as part of a 12-day round trip to Fiji from Sydney.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is another step in reopening our borders and one step closer to getting back to business as usual.”
Nash said it would take some time for international tourist numbers and income to return to pre-pandemic levels, when the industry accounted for around 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of GDP.
“I think there’s been a lot of people in the tourism industry who have done badly over the past two years,” Nash said. “But we have always taken an approach where we have to make sure we get the right health response. Because if we don’t, we know the consequences are disastrous.
Not everyone is happy with the return of tourists. A sailboat carrying protesters upset over the industry’s impact on the environment followed the Pacific Explorer into the harbor on Friday, before passengers were greeted with an indigenous Maori welcome and a visit from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Nash said the break in tourism gave the nation a chance to reset its priorities. One was to prey on what he described as wealthier “high quality” tourists who would stay longer and have a story to tell when they return home.
“We’re not targeting guys who come in and post on Facebook, ‘Hey, travel to New Zealand on $10 a day living on 2 minute noodles,'” Nash said.
He said another aim was to move away from the perception that people working in the industry are subject to long hours and low pay, and to make it a more rewarding and challenging career.
Nash said with more expensive airfares and more cautious travelers than before the pandemic, tourism numbers could remain subdued for a while, but he believed the industry would eventually make a comeback. .
“I see markets like the United States as a very important market for New Zealand,” he said. “There’s been $2 trillion saved in the United States on top of what would have been saved had it not been for COVID. So there’s some money floating around.

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