A pontoon, once filled with people, is now submerged. Video / ABC
New Zealand Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has issued a heavy warning to tourism operators, saying it could be “at least another three to four years” before visitor numbers return to pre-coronavirus levels.
Nash made scathing comments during a whistle-stop visit to the struggling seaside resort town of Kaikoura South Island last week.
After announcing another $ 13 million- $ 18 million fund to help shore up the ailing tourist spots in Kaikoura, Mackenzie – Aoraki Mt Cook, Lake Queenstown, Fiordland and South Westland, Nash told the Herald they might face a lengthy battle.
“What the airlines are telling me is at least three to four years before we get the same level of air traffic to New Zealand,” he said.
His comments echo those of recent global experts including the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Qantas also believes its international network is unlikely to fully recover by 2024, even with digital “passport vaccines” being piloted around the world.
These problems have divided the global aviation community. Canadian airline WestJet recently laid off 400 pilots, while United Airlines announced last week it would re-hire about 300 pilots.
New Zealand’s aviation industry, along with tourism operators, who are waiting to see if a transtasman travel bubble will emerge, hopes Nash’s comments are closer to a “worst case scenario”.
But Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the airline industry group, Airline Representative Council (Barnz), also thinks global passenger numbers are unlikely to fully recover until around 2024-25.
New Zealand’s largest travel agency Aviation Center predicts demand will return to pre-Covid levels in late 2023 or early 2024.
“Outbound travel is a vital part of the tourism ecosystem and without it, Aotearoa will struggle to attract international air capacity, and anything else that brings New Zealand’s strong economy,” said Flight Center managing director David Coombes.
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association (NZALPA), however, argues that numbers should return sooner than 2024-25.
“That would be the worst horizon I would suggest, a very conservative horizon,” NZALPA president Andrew Ridling said of Nash’s comments.
The New Zealand Bed & Breakfast Association advises its members to work back to pre-Covid numbers in 2023.
If the 3-4 year timeframe is correct, it will “succeed or fail for some bed and breakfasts”, says association president Donna Brooke.
“We hope some will close and others go into hibernation for a period of time,” he said.
There is some optimism, however, with many B & Bs accepting reservations for the peak period January to March next year from international wholesalers and agents in the UK, Europe and the US.
“We accepted this order with the understanding that they could cancel very well,” said Brooke.
“Our advice to our members is to be flexible and fluid. The challenge in accepting these bookings is that it ‘needs space’ that domestic bookings can properly fill.”
Air New Zealand was unable to respond to the Herald’s approach on Sunday.
A New Zealand tourism business survey last month revealed that 53 percent of operators believe they will have to close within 12 months if the current situation does not improve.