By NICK PERRY, Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand welcomed tourists from the United States, Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years on Monday after having dropped most of its remaining pandemic border restrictions.
The country has long been renowned for its breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungee jumping and skiing. Before the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s overseas revenue and more than 5% of the overall economy.
But international tourism came to a complete halt at the start of 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the toughest border restrictions in the world.
Border rules remained in place as the government first pursued a strategy of elimination and then tried to tightly control the spread of the virus. The spread of omicron and the vaccinations of more than 80% of New Zealand’s 5 million people have led to the gradual easing of restrictions.
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New Zealand reopened to Australian tourists three weeks ago and on Monday to around 60 visa-free countries, including much of Europe. Most tourists from India, China and other countries without waivers are still not allowed entry.
Tourists will need to be vaccinated and tested for the virus before and after arrival.
“Today is a day to celebrate and a great moment in our reconnection with the world,” said Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
At Auckland airport, flights bringing tourists began landing early in the morning, coming directly from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
The reopening of the border will help boost tourism ahead of the next ski season in New Zealand. But the real test of the scale of the tourism industry’s rebound will come in December, when the peak summer season begins in the southern hemisphere nation.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 90,000 people had booked flights to New Zealand in the seven weeks since the reopening was announced and 21 international flights were due to land in Auckland on Monday.
“Our tourism industry has felt the effects of the global pandemic acutely and is working hard to prepare,” she said.
Ardern said there were no immediate plans to relax virus testing and vaccination requirements for tourists.
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