New Zealand has welcomed tourists back from the United States, Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years after dropping most of its border restrictions remaining pandemics.
Before the spread of COVID-19, more than three million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s overseas revenue and more than 5% of the overall economy.
But international tourism came to a complete halt at the start of 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the toughest border restrictions in the world.
Border rules remained in place as the government first pursued a strategy of elimination and then tried to tightly control the spread of the virus.
The spread of Omicron and the vaccination of more than 80% of New Zealand’s five million people has led to a gradual easing of restrictions.
New Zealand reopened to Australian tourists three weeks ago and on Monday to around 60 visa-free countries, including much of Europe.
Most tourists from India, China and other countries without waivers are still not allowed entry.
Visitors should be vaccinated and tested for the virus after arrival.
“Today is a day to celebrate, and a great moment in our reconnection with the world,” said Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
At Auckland airport, flights bringing tourists began landing early in the morning, coming directly from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
The reopening of borders will help boost tourism ahead of New Zealand’s next ski season, but the real test of how big the tourism industry’s rebound will come when the peak summer season hits in December.