Needing clarity: Queenstown Airport CEO Glen Sowry

As an airport, our role of connecting people is particularly important at this time of year.

Some positive progress has been made in recent weeks.

Kiwis will be taking the opportunity to travel domestically over summer.

Those who have been stranded overseas will be able to come home early in the new year  without MIQ.

Certainly, some welcome steps, but I don’t need to repeat what other columnists have said — the ups and downs are taking their toll in Queenstown and we are yearning for clarity.

On Friday we moved to the traffic light system.

Within two weeks we will be welcoming flights back from Auckland to ZQN.

But it is now 20 months since the international border first closed, and while the trans-Tasman bubble emerged briefly, we have effectively been shut off from the world for that period.

Last month’s announcements from the government that seven days’ isolation will be  required for all travellers into New Zealand for the foreseeable future essentially means NZ and Queenstown remain closed for business for any international tourism, including the important Australian market.

This means that tourism operators are wholly reliant on the domestic NZ market.

Kiwis are itching to get out and travel over summer, and we’re hopeful that Queenstown will have the opportunity to welcome many of them.

But the reality is every day that we don’t have clarity around the timing for reopening of quarantine-free international travel, the greater the risk to our recovery.

Some international airlines are reacting by deploying aircraft away from NZ to other routes,
and it is possible that it may be years before they return.

This would have significant impacts on both tourism and trade.

Throughout the pandemic we have had the advantage of observing and learning from the experiences of other countries grappling with wave after wave of Covid, and the new variants presenting challenges, the latest being Omicron.

Each layer of protection we can introduce is vital to enable us to open back up to NZ and the world.

Vaccination and testing are key.

It has been incredibly encouraging to see the nation-leading vaccination rates here in Queenstown which makes our region safer for visitors and residents alike.

We are all waiting to see what developments occur in the coming weeks with the new  Omicron variant and what the public health response is globally.

I remain cautiously optimistic trans-Tasman travel can be introduced early next year without the need for self-isolation upon arrival.

Parliament was told last week that of the 2544 passengers arriving from Australia since August 23, there were only three cases of Covid, and not one of these were double-vaccinated.

With the appropriate protocols in place, the risk at the border is manageable.

We will, of course, need to keep a close eye on developments with Omicron to ensure this
remains the case.

We know that visitors will be keen to come once again, and our airline partners are  confident that the Southern Lakes remains a highly desirable destination.

We need to ensure we don’t miss the boat.

Certainty around the resumption of international tourism is needed.

We are working closely and collaboratively alongside our colleagues in the New Zealand
Aviation Coalition, and we are in regular discussions with senior government officials to ensure that the aviation sector is doing everything it can to keep travel as safe as possible to enable inter national travel to resume.

I’ve greatly appreciated the warm welcome to Queenstown Airport.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the airport community and many people in the district.

I’d like to wish you all a safe and relaxing holiday season with your whanau.

If you’re staying close to home, I hope you get out there and enjoy all that we have on our doorstep.

If you’re heading away, I hope you relish the opportunity to travel and connect with loved ones – especially if you’re flying!

Glen Sowry is Queenstown Airport’s CEO