See you soon: The first trans-Tasman flight in more than a year pictured being welcomed at Queenstown Airport last April. From April 13, Australians can once again visit Queenstown, without isolation. PICTURE: GREGOR RICHARDSON


Pop the champagne.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced borders will open to Australian
tourists in a month, and to the rest of the world in six weeks — with no self-isolation requirements.

The timing, for Queenstown, is poetic.

It comes two years and one day after Queenstown’s first Covid case was confirmed, and
announcements international borders were to close.

From 11.59pm on April 12, vaccinated Aussies can travel to New Zealand, while vaccinated visitors from visa-waiver countries, like the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan and Singapore, and those with valid visitors’ visas, can arrive from 11.59pm on May 1.

‘‘Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop Covid-19 over two years ago and it’s reopening will spur our economic recovery throughout the remainder of the year,’’ Ardern said yesterday.

‘‘We can plan with greater certainty with the comfort of knowing the impact of these
changes is safe and manageable.

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

The PM says she’s pleased to be starting a new chapter alongside tourism operators.

‘‘I know by visiting tourism operators and talking to their staff, how tough these past two years have been, and not only because of the massive loss of tourism revenue, but because we derived so much of our identity from [it].’’

‘The best news we’ve had in two years’

Borders will reopen in time for the Australian school holidays and for New Zealand’s ski season which Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says could be ‘‘one of the best ski seasons ever’’ — assuming there’s good snow.

Ecstatic: Queenstown mayor Jim Boult. PICTURE: CRAIG BAXTER

‘‘[This is] the best news Queenstown Lakes district’s had in an economic sense since Covid came … the bottom line is, can’t wait to see the Aussies back, they are just so important to us,’’ Boult says.

Queenstown Airport CEO Glen Sowry says the timing is ‘‘really good’’ for airlines to now lock in their schedules for flights to Queenstown.

‘‘[Airlines] can get cracking, they can plan schedules, they can advertise, they can give customers certainty that they’re going to be able to come to Queenstown and they can get their operational capabilities stood up, so that certainty is incredibly important and
much welcomed,’’ he says.

Fantastic news: Queenstown Airport CEO Glen Sowry can’t wait to see international visitors flood the airport

Like most businesses, Sowry says, the airport will need to boost staffing, and airlines will take some time making their pilots recurrent on flying into an alpine environment like Queenstown.

‘‘There’s a lot of work to be done, not so much for the airport company, but certainly for the ground handlers … the customs team, MPI and the like, all need to get prepared but we’re confident they’re in good shape with that.’’

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce boss Ruth Stokes says opening up in April gives businesses the opportunity to gear up for winter.

Businesses will rise to challenge: Queenstown Chamber of Commerce CEO Ruth Stokes

‘‘We are hopeful that the announcements will be accompanied by a release of the kickstart funding that was committed for businesses to be able to prepare themselves for reopening.’’

Stokes says the kickstart fund will be critical to rebuilding, and while some businesses may face issues with resourcing, she’s confident businesses will rise to the challenge.

‘‘Our businesses aren’t going to look the gift horse that is the reopening of the borders in the mouth, they’ll be very pleased that it is happening.’’

Traffic light review needed: Hospitality New Zealand Queenstown regional manager Darelle Jenkins

Hospitality New Zealand Queenstown regional manager Darelle Jenkins says it’s ‘‘great’’
hospitality operators will have time to prepare, and is hopeful some of Queenstown’s staffing shortages will be eased by Australian workers.

She says the next step is for the government to review the traffic light settings, for which the PM says decisions will be made ‘‘in short order’’ once NZ comes off the peak of Omicron.

Destination Queenstown board chair Richard Thomas says it’s the ‘‘best news we’ve had in two years’’ and a ‘‘huge relief’’ for local businesses.

It’s not yet clear when the first trans-Tasman flight will touch down in Queenstown, but Sowry says he’ll be talking to airlines this week about how quickly they can bring forward their operations.