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The domestic tourism sector was rocked by the red light in February. Photo / Provided
Omicron beat the accommodation sector in February, highlighting the pain tourism operators are going through while waiting for international visitors to return.
Government figures show the number of overnight stays plunged by 22% to
1.8 million for the month when the country was in the red of the traffic light system.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs found that the national occupancy rate for February fell from 42.5% in 2021 to 34.9% this year.
The Accommodation Data Program (ADP) measures the activity of major tourist accommodation providers, excluding Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities and emergency accommodation.
This article focuses on two ADP metrics:
All regions were in the red throughout February in response to widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant.
By comparison, for most of February 2021, all areas except Auckland were at Alert Level 1, meaning fewer restrictions were in place.
The ministry says the ongoing Omicron outbreak, which began in January, led to hesitation in domestic travel in February and all regional tourism organizations (RTOs) saw a drop in overnight stays.
For all RTOs, the number of overnight stays in February fell between 2021 and 2022. Whanganui recorded the largest drop of 38%.
Accommodation providers in Auckland – hard hit by last year’s 107-day lockdown after a border failure in August – suffered a 24% drop in February from a year earlier, with 183 600 nights.
Overnight stays at holiday parks and campgrounds fell to 628,000, down 24% from February 2021.
National occupancy rates fell by 7.6 percentage points.
Occupancy rates fell in all RTOs except Central Otago, due to a loss of available capacity rather than an increase in occupied capacity.
Rotorua and Tairāwhiti closely followed the decline in overnight stays in February 2022, both down 37% to 47,000 and 37,000 respectively.
International visitors are about to start returning.
Vaccinated Australians can enter without needing to quarantine or self-isolate from April 13.
Fully vaccinated travelers from around 60 countries on a visa waiver list will be able to arrive from May 2. These countries include Great Britain and the United States.
All arrivals will have to show a negative Covid test, a rival tourism requirement that Australia drops on April 17.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash told the Virtual School of Tourism Policy in Otago on Friday morning that the return of visitors from Australia was an important step.
And after reconnecting with Australia and visa-free countries, the next big step is to fully reopen to all countries.
He said the decisions would not only affect our tourism operators, but over time, they would reinvigorate entire communities.
“However, we know the impact of Covid-19 will continue to be felt, and international visitors from some major markets are unlikely to return in large numbers right away,” Nash said.
“Covid-19 has changed the world, and we cannot expect tourism to remain unchanged. We are unlikely to see an immediate return to 2019 levels, but neither should we – it was unsustainable, and some of our communities were bearing the brunt of its impact.”
Nash gave more details about the “high value” visitors he was looking for.
“We want people to visit our country who care about the environment and who want to engage with our culture. People who think outside the box and seek out new experiences and reflect on how they interact with our land and communities.”
He said the country should seek out visitors who will become advocates for travel here because they have had wonderful and rich experiences that have contributed to the country’s regeneration goals.
This does not exclude backpackers or budget conscious travellers.
“They will always be welcome and that is why we have moved quickly to reopen working holiday visa applications.”