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Welcome back to the global tourism fight, New Zealand. you’re late

Josh Martin is a London-based Kiwi journalist.

OPINION: The party was absolutely heaving when New Zealand finally rocked up. No announcement. Or, if there was one, it was completely drowned out by the raucous reunion. The red carpet had been rolled up not long after Australia’s grand entrance.

“Where the bloody hell are ya?,” read an earlier message from the Aussies on New Zealand’s phone.

“I have arrived!” shouted New Zealand, muffled from behind two masks. The US looked up, saw the Kiwi’s masks, rolled its eyes, and cried “Freeeeeedom!” and got back to chatting up Greece, Mexico and Italy by the pool. A sickly looking Britain chipped in between coughing fits.

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“Don’t worry about our high case load, I’m tested and vaxxed up to the hilt and ready to welcome you all back,” pleaded the tardy Kiwi guest. Nobody looked remotely worried. New Zealand was taken back.

“Hello…? Oi, guys, I haven’t seen you all in ages (aye) who’s pleased to see me?”

“Mate, we saw you back in May,” shrugged Australia, “and our next little rendezvous is likely to be Thailand, Bali, or maybe Vietnam… so many options”

New Zealand is late to the border reopening party.

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New Zealand is late to the border reopening party.

The music stopped. There was an audible gasp among the crowd. “Japan. Is. Open!” declared a new arrival from Tokyo, bowing, to loud cheering. What an entrance.

“We never thought we’d see the day. I’m booking my ticket now,” promised Germany.

“Well, where’s China?” asked a now irate New Zealand, “They’re always giving us love.”

“Not coming – haven’t heard from them in years now. Completely failed off the radar that lot.”

India and South Africa at least looked pleased to see us.

New Zealand is late to the border reopening party and it’ll take more than a whistle-stop charm offensive on TV chat shows from Jacinda Ardern to kickstart what was once Aotearoa’s biggest export earner.

With the borders (finally) reopening to those countries not previously covered with visa waivers on Monday, the industry can begin the rebuild.

But from here in the UK, tourism promotion is in full swing. New Zealand will be playing catch-up.

Turkey’s pristine coastline and ancient sites seem to have wall-to-wall billboard coverage, while New York City signage shouts at me from London’s double-decker buses. The battle for the tourist dollar is back on and it’s intense.

Although revered for handling Covid-19 well, New Zealand will also have to fight that supplementary reputation that it’s going to be unnecessarily burdensome to enter the country, which like the very long flight duration times, works against it in a very crowded market.

If you’re flying across the world and paying top dollar to visit an expensive destination like New Zealand, you want to be sure it’s not going to backfire because of bureaucracy. Bucket-listers and working visas aside, many will opt for a closer option that has been opened for longer.

The initial announcement popped up on the world news sections of the BBC and Al Jazeera, but perhaps only because the acceptance of visitors is in stark contrast to the cold (and, yes, probably necessary) detachment of the New Zealand border for the previous two years.

This latest reopening barely got a mention. “Hmmmm, maybe chuck it in the end of the bulletin running order,” I overheard in the newsroom on Sunday.

Of course, UK tourists were catered to in the previous reopening that covered visa-waiver countries and there will be, no doubt, a core group of people from what was our fourth-largest inbound tourist market who were relieved.

There were somewhat entitled sighs of “fiiiiinnnnalllly!” There was certainly a tall-poppy-esque sliver of public opinion here that, despite what the death stats said at the time, and the abysmal comparatives between the UK and New Zealand, eventually they just wanted to drag New Zealand off its high horse and into the Covid death pit. At least then they can visit Wellington, Waiheke and Wānaka (always mispronounced Win-nacka) while the emergency wards steadily fill up.

This latest reopening milestone, however, can drastically increase the numbers of Brits who want to visit New Zealand for longer working holidays as well as for higher education – with a bit of travel and exploration on the side. These types of arrivals, who might not be lured by headlines and flashy billboard advertisements plastered across Piccadilly Circus, are possibly more valuable to the New Zealand economy and often this sort of ‘slow tourism’ and assimilation leads to them being enthusiastic allies waving the flag for New Zealand long after they’ve departed.

I’m thrilled to be able to share my country with the whole world once more – even if it was a little bit late to the party – no doubt the wait is worth it.

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