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Preparing to reopen: Queenstown Airport CEO Glen Sowry

The moment we’ve all been waiting for.

In my last Mountain Scene column, in December, I wrote about the need for clarity around the timing for the return of quarantine-free international travel.

This month’s announcement has provided us with that clarity, and was a hugely important milestone.

There was a collective sigh of relief the New Zealand border will reopen to Australian  visitors from 11:59pm on April 12, and other visa-waiver visitors from May 1.

The opening of the border to Australians without the requirement to self-isolate is vital  to the region’s recovery.

Prior to the pandemic, 30% of all passengers at Queenstown Airport arrived and  departed on trans-Tasman flights, so Australia is a really important market for us.

It has been quite surreal to be the CEO of an international airport for just over six  months, and yet still be waiting for the first international flight to arrive.

At Queenstown Airport we can’t wait to welcome Australians to the Southern Lakes
through the airport soon.

After the short-lived bubble last year, we’ve been able to welcome fellow Kiwis to Queenstown and beyond, and businesses across the region have adapted amazingly well, but the reality is, we’ve been biding our time.

The emergence of Omicron late last year introduced new challenges for our national response and has required all businesses, including ours, to further refine business continuity plans.

For Queenstown Airport, after operating for close to two years in the complex and  uncertain environment created by Covid, our focus has been the stabilisation of the business and safe guarding the company’s core capability to operate critical airport infrastructure in the Southern Lakes.

Nationwide and regional lockdowns, as well as regional border restrictions, were in place for more than three months over the last year, resulting in greatly-reduced passenger and aircraft movements at Queenstown Airport.

There were no flights between Auckland and Queenstown, usually our busiest route, for 178 days, creating an extremely challenging business environment.

We are obviously not alone.

Times have been tough across the region, for our airline partners, the entire airport community, and all businesses that rely on air connection.

Now, we are looking to recovery and committed to working closely with businesses and regional tourism organisations in the region to highlight all this part of the world has to offer, and to rebuilding together.

There’s still a way to go, of course, but the uncertainty has been lifted.

We can all take a more proactive role in planning for the future.

Destination Queenstown’s consumer marketing activity in the Australian market went live a few days after the announcement.

They’re showcasing all the region has on offer and encouraging Aussies to book with confidence and come visit us soon.

The coming months are generally our quieter ones.

From late May we expect a gradual return of direct flights from the east coast of Australia to Queenstown.

We’re now working closely with our four airline partners, border agencies and ground
handlers to ensure a smooth reopening here at ZQN.

Airlines are still working on updating their schedules, but we are hopeful trans-Tasman flights will resume here by late May and that we will be welcoming Aussies during autumn, one of the most beautiful times of the year, as we gear up for a pumping ski
season.

We, at Queenstown Airport, are looking forward to welcoming both Kiwis and  international visitors over the coming months and playing our part in the region’s recovery.

Glen Sowry is Queenstown Airport’s chief executive