‘Warmest welcome you can imagine’ – Ardern opens NZ doors to tourists

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown to promote New Zealand to Australian travellers. Image: Jacinda Ardern/Facebook/RNZ

By Tess Brunton, RNZ News tourism reporter

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has gone on a marketing blitz to reel Australians to Aotearoa New Zealand’s shores.

It comes as tourism operators race to ramp up in time — with less than four weeks to go before those crossing the Tasman can touch down.

Already some Queenstown businesses expected demand could be high, but they were questioning how they would find enough staff in time.

Beaming in from shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Australian breakfast show Sunrise, Aotearoa couldn’t wait to have them back.

“I cannot remember a time when we’ve been so excited about the prospect of seeing as many Australians as possible come and visit us, so you can expect to get the warmest welcome you can imagine,” she told Sunrise on Friday morning.

She has been speaking with tourist operators around Queenstown on Friday, and acknowledged that they needed more support to find enough staff in time.

‘Ready to welcome the world’
Ardern has announced New Zealand’s borders will be open to vaccinated Australians from 11.59 pm on April 12, RNZ News reports.

She says fully vaccinated travellers from visa-waiver countries will be able to enter the country from 11.59pm on May 1.

The border has already reopened to New Zealanders from around the world and on Monday critical and skilled workers also became eligible to enter without isolation, Ardern said.

“We have now received guidance that it is safe to significantly bring forward the next stage of border reopening work, bringing back our tourists,” she said.

“In short, we’re ready to welcome the world back.”

On her Sunrise programme, she said: “We traditionally haven’t had to market particularly. But in this environment right now, I have been talking with Tourism New Zealand and I’d like to bring Immigration New Zealand in to work together around promoting New Zealand as a working holiday option to try and bring in that extra workforce we need.”

NZ Ski chief executive Paul Anderson was thrilled to see images of Coronet Peak and other iconic vistas beamed back to Australia as part of the Prime Minister’s trip today.

Finding staff a hot topic
But he told her the hot topic was how to find enough staff.

Recruitment was underway for the three mountains, which usually have about 1250 workers.

He said they were on the look out for more snow sport staff.

“There will be 400 to 500 of them we will need in Queenstown. That’s probably 100 to 200 more than we had in previous years.”

And he has not ruled out getting extras in just in case covid-19 took a toll on their workforce.

“If covid is still going through the community, we need to be really aware of that and be able to manage absenteeism that are lot of businesses are suffering from at the moment.”

Rees Hotel chief executive Mark Rose said the border announcement was the best news he has had during the pandemic.

Steady bookings flow
“Two minutes after she started speaking and that date came out, we started getting bookings and there’s been a steady flow of them ever since.”

Friends, family and travel agents in Australia got in contact after seeing the Prime Minister’s appearance on Sunrise.

“I’ve no doubt that we are going to be inundated with Australians over the coming months. I mean they’ve made up about 40 percent of my business over the years.

“I have no doubt at all that we’ll be back to where it was and probably even stronger for this first six months.”

The hotel has gone from 120 staff to 50 over the past two years — but Rose said that needed to double within a few months.

“We’ll need a hundred staff working at the hotel by about the June 20, probably a little earlier to give them the training and things to get the standards up.

“If we’re not at that level, we will slow down the sales of our rooms so we won’t close rooms down but we just won’t have them up for sale.

“It’s much more important that we offer great service than it is for us to just be piling people in and putting money in the bank.”

A long two years for operators — but it seemed there was finally light at the end of the tunnel.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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