New Zealand is set to welcome fully vaccinated travellers from Australia and visa waiver countries earlier than planned under a revised reopening timeline announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday.

From 11:59pm on April 12, fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents can enter New Zealand without having to undertake managed isolation and less than a month later, from 11.59pm on May 1, visitors from visa waiver countries such as the UK, US, Japan, Germany, Korea and Singapore, and those from other countries with a valid visitor visa will be welcomed back.

The original timeline stated that these travellers would be welcomed back “by July”, but no specific date was given. The reopening announcement comes as the first working holidaymakers arrived into New Zealand earlier this week. The return of visitors from non-visa waiver countries, which is currently targeted for October, is under review.

A new tourism marketing campaign launches in Australia this week to build demand for travel to New Zealand.

“Apart from three months of quarantine-free travel in 2021 when around 160,000 Australians came here, we have missed our Aussie visitors,” said Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.

“We cannot wait to have our mates back. Bringing forward the date will accelerate our economic recovery. With borders now re-opening TNZ’s activity becomes focussed on converting holiday dreams into actual bookings.”

The reopening has been widely welcomed by businesses in the hotel and tourism sector. Here’s what leaders in Australia and New Zealand had to say about the news:

IHG Hotels & Resorts Managing Director – Australasia & Pacific, Matt Tripolone:

“I couldn’t be happier to see the borders to New Zealand opening to Aussies in April, it’s great news for the tourism and accommodation industry as NZ welcomes back its biggest inbound market.

“Our hotel teams are excited to open their doors to international travellers after such a difficult period, and we have some stunning new hotels ready to open imminently. In fact, the timing is quite perfect, with both voco Auckland City Centre and Holiday Inn Express Auckland City Centre about to open, and our brand-new Holiday Inn Queenstown Remarkables Park ready to welcome guests right on the cusp of ski season.

“It’s very welcome news indeed, and there will be plenty of happy holiday makers and business travellers busily making plans today.”

Hilton Area Vice President and Head of Australasia, Asia Pacific, Paul Hutton:

“At Hilton, we’re thrilled with today’s announcement on the commencement of quarantine travel to New Zealand for vaccinated Australians. We are confident that the pent-up demand for travel to NZ from Australia is there, and we will see meaningful increases in our business following the opening on 12 April.

“Australia is the key source market for our seven trading New Zealand hotels which span both the North and South islands. As one of the first steps in the country’s reopening plan for tourists, we look forward to welcoming Aussies back to our diverse portfolio in New Zealand after an extremely challenging two years.

“Although we saw strong domestic travel throughout this period, we’re optimistic that the return of Aussie business and leisure travellers will very much serve as a lifeline for our hotels until the country fully reopens to international travel.

“We’re also extremely pleased that this reopening will serve to reenergise and reinvigorate our New Zealand team members who have remained so positive and resilient despite the challenges thrown at them these last two years.

“From the pristine shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown and our Hilton Hotels & Resorts and DoubleTree by Hilton branded hotels there, to the charming Chateau on the Park, DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Christchurch, and the iconic Hilton Auckland located on Princes Wharf in the most harbourside location you can get in the city, our collection of properties across New Zealand is a reflection of the destinations, landscapes and people which make the country so great.

“And, on 26 March, we will open our newest hotel in New Zealand, DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka located 25 minutes south of Auckland, a further sign of our commitment to the country, as well as the trust our partners and guests have in our brand, despite the uncertainty of recent times.”

Accor Pacific CEO, Sarah Derry:

“It is fantastic news that the New Zealand borders are beginning to reopen, our teams are incredibly excited, and we cannot wait to welcome guests back to enjoy one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”

Event Hospitality Director of Hotels and Resorts, Norman Arundel:

“This is very welcome news and we are delighted to see borders beginning to open.

“We’ve had a border opening strategy and marketing plan ready for several months however, together with the rest of the industry, we will first need to understand the practicalities of the testing regime on both sides of the Tasman.

“There is no doubt that there is pent-up demand and we are well-placed to ensure that our properties will be at the forefront of booking activity once free and easy travel is enabled.”

Hotel Council Aotearoa Strategic Director, James Doolan:

“Hotel Council Aotearoa is pleased that government has brought forward the reopening dates for the return of international tourists to New Zealand. It’s a shame that visa processing capacity seems to be delaying a full reopening, but we’ll take what we can get.

“Before borders closed two years ago, 55 per cent of all overnight accommodation revenue was from international travellers. Domestic demand alone was never enough to replace free-spending international tourists. 

“New Zealanders notice the impact of missing international travellers when their favourite restaurant goes out of business, or when they see boarded up shops in tourist destinations such as the Auckland CBD, Rotorua, West Coast and Queenstown. Many excellent tourism businesses have not survived two years without their most valuable customers.

“This announcement could have been made six weeks ago when government modellers started predicting tens of thousands of daily cases. 

“Government must now be mindful of not retaining pre-departure testing requirements any longer than strictly necessary, since the cost and inconvenience will be a barrier for many leisure travellers. The United Kingdom removed all travel restrictions overnight and New Zealand’s competitor destinations are on a similar path.

“Operationally, a number of challenges lie ahead. We must move to Omicron level Orange as soon as possible, because level Red is suppressing demand. If vaccine passes aren’t removed entirely, then it should be much easier for tourists to obtain them quickly on arrival. Industry has been concerned for some time about government’s visa processing capacity and turnaround times. This needs attention. 

“Finally, it’s beyond time for a reopening of the maritime border. Cruise ships could have safely returned to New Zealand months ago.

“The hotel sector faces a near-impossible task of rebuilding teams after 54 per cent of overnight accommodation sector workers were lost in the first twelve months after borders closed. Hotel Council Aotearoa has been warning government about the impending tourism labour squeeze since December 2020, but little is being done. This will slow the recovery and negatively affect service standards.”

Hospitality New Zealand:

“Opening before winter will be a game changer for so many businesses in the hardest hit tourism regions, such as the southern ski resorts.

“Crucially, they will have time to prepare for the Australian school holidays, though staffing may be an issue for some.

“Australian visitors typically make up 40% of overall visitors to New Zealand. As Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said – ‘We have missed you.’

“We need the border fully open to all as soon as possible, we need to get out of the red traffic light setting so we can have more venues open and get concerts back, and we need to get rid of vaccine passes.

“We believe [Government] should stand them down on 1 May at very latest to coincide with opening the border to the rest of the world.”

Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) Chief Executive Lisa Hopkins:

“This is the message our international customers needed to hear. We anticipate between 50 to 60 business events with international attendees will now be able to proceed with confidence this year, bringing vital export revenue and cash flow back to the sector.

“As we see it, the mahi (work) isn’t finished. There are a couple of critical issues, vital to our sector, which still need to be addressed.

“The first is the need for the government to indicate when we can expect a shift in the Covid Protection Framework from Red to Green. We understand that can’t happen right now in the midst of the Omicron peak, but we are keen to ensure this is uppermost in the government’s thinking.

“The second is the process for attendees and visitors to enter the country. This needs to be refined, as currently, it is cumbersome and not fit for purpose.”

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran:

“It’s no secret the past two years have been extremely turbulent for people. There’s a real buzz today. New Zealand holds a special place in many people’s hearts, whether they’re a Kiwi or visitor, touching down on New Zealand soil will be a moment to remember.

“It’s also been incredibly hard for our tourism operators around the country. Today’s announcement will help them get back to what they do best – welcoming international visitors to Aotearoa.

“Flights across the Tasman have been particularly popular, especially over the Easter period where we have added over 90 flights to keep up with demand over that period.

“On our long-haul network, we’re seeing particular interest in journeys from North America around the July holiday period. It’s a sign that tourists still have New Zealand at the top of their bucket list.”

Tourism Industry Aotearoa Communications Manager Ann-Marie Johnson:

“After around 730 days of pain in the two years since our international borders closed, tourism operators finally have confirmation they can get back to business.

“Tourism was the first industry to be affected by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. Tourism operators both large and small have made huge sacrifices but

can now focus on rebuilding their businesses.

“We hope today’s announcement will give some Australian families time to book their holiday travel. But looking further ahead, it will definitely be a huge boost for our ski season.”