By TRACEY ROXBURGH
You could almost hear the sighs of relief at 4pm on Tuesday in Queenstown.
After holding the collective breath for more than a year, the resort was finally able to exhale as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a trans-Tasman bubble will open from 11.59pm on April 18.
The first flight from Australia into Queenstown in more than a year will be operated by Qantas, from Sydney, landing in the resort about 2.30pm on April 19.
Air New Zealand will resume its international flights the following day.
But most in the Whakatipu are expecting a slow burn, initially, before the resort’s international pulse starts racing again in July, coinciding with both the New Zealand and Australian winter school holidays.
Novotel Queenstown Lakeside boss Jim Moore says bookings were ‘‘almost immediate’’ from Aussie on Tuesday afternoon.
‘‘There were people emailing and people ringing — I think they were just waiting for the announcement and they were pretty much on to it straight away.’’
Moore says the hotel’s already got good levels of bookings, right from April 19, but particularly in July and August.
At The Rees Hotel, on Frankton Road, about 130 room nights were booked within 90 minutes on Tuesday night.
Chief executive Mark Rose told Mountain Scene on Wednesday it has been ‘‘non-stop’’ ever since.
‘‘There’s a bit [in] April, May … but come mid-June onwards, seriously, it’s gone bonkers.’’
The relief, though, is tempered with a level of trepidation, he says, particularly around labour force issues in relation to potential capacity.
‘‘If this sort of activity keeps coming, I may not be able to open all of my hotel.
‘‘I may have to open 80% of it, because I’m not prepared to give bad service.’’
The hotel has 170 rooms, plus apartments, and while he already has a base of bookings for July indicating he could welcome about 100 guests a night that month, ‘‘I’m scared’’.
Moore, too, is ‘‘a little bit hesitant’’ when it comes to staffing levels.
‘‘It’s obviously good news for us [but] we’ve … got to make sure that we can cope with the numbers if they do come in great numbers.’’
Hilton Queenstown boss Chris Ehmann says they’ve already seen a ‘‘bump’’ for May and June, ‘‘which has been fantastic’’.
‘‘The expectation at this point is that most people will kind of wait it out until the winter and come for the ski season, but we’ve certainly seen something already, which is great news.
‘‘But I have to say we’ve been really blessed with NZers coming down to Queenstown — it really helped us hang on to our staff and get through this little road bump.’’
He says the hotel’s ‘‘in not too bad a position to ramp up’’.
‘‘We worked pretty hard to really ensure that NZers continue to travel to Queenstown, so we’ve been offering some really, really good rates, which has been helpful, and it’s helped keep the hotel busy, it’s helped keeping our staff and all of that kind of thing going.
‘‘I still think we’ve got at least two months before it really, really ramps up, but if you take this [past] weekend, as an example, the hotel was full again … which was just amazing.
‘‘It just brings so much more energy back into the hotel and it gets everybody revved up again, which is great.’’
NZONE marketing manager Stephen Thompson says it’s been a ‘‘tough’’ 12 months — particularly since mid-January when the domestic market started to peter out.
There’s a feeling of relief within the company ‘‘that we are finally moving forward’’.
‘‘And it’s great for Queenstown and the other businesses that have been struggling too.’’
Thompson says it’s also exciting to see a rapid return of direct services from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney — Queenstown Airport’s expecting 40 flights, both arrivals and departures, per week initially, operated by Air New Zealand and Qantas, with more routes expected to be added soon by Jetstar and Virgin Australia, including a Queenstown-Gold Coast service.
Thompson: ‘‘Initially we expect to see a gradual increase in visitors, but I think once we get into the ski season and July school holidays, Queenstown will be alive and kicking again.’’