Under mounting pressure to open borders to tourists, the Government will this week announce plans for bringing forward dates from earlier plans.
Airlines, tourism groups and politicians are increasingly worried that more visitor, travel and hospitality businesses will suffer irreparable harm without isolation-free entry into the country before the July date announced earlier by the Government.
Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the AM Show that an announcement would be made soon.
''This week we will be announcing those dates and the fact that they will be coming forward.''
Under the timetable announced in early February, Australian tourists and those from visa waiver countries would be welcome mid-year and those from all countries in October. But under those plans they would still have been required to self-isolate for a week, effectively killing off any chance of a tourism recovery.
However, as the Omicron outbreak grew to overtake rates of infection overseas, the Government abruptly dropped the self-isolation requirements for returning New Zealanders and has been for two weeks considering health advice about when to open up to others, and the conditions that should be attached.
It won't happen until after the peak of the outbreak, of which there are stronger signs emerging, which makes a reopening to Australians before the next school holidays around Easter a possibility.
Airlines that are planning where to deploy planes later in the year say that every day uncertainty remains, New Zealand risks losing further passenger services which are running at just a quarter of what they were before the pandemic.
The Tourism Export Council said today it was picking up the possibly Australian visitors would be allowed in time for Easter and ''maybe'' Rest of World visa waive countries in May - the United States, Canada, Britain, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.
''There is still a long way to go for mainstream international tourism businesses to return to New Zealand,'' said chief executive Lynda Keene.
The start of the long-haul visitor (US, Canada, UK, Europe, South East Asia, China) season is still six months away.
''Even with a date of possibly April/May, things don't change overnight. It takes time. International tourism will rebuild slowly,'' she said.
A 1 News poll last week showed 75 per cent said yes to the question: "Do you think New Zealand should open up our borders to overseas tourists and visitors now, as long as they test negative on arrival?"
National's Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay said the Government needs to bring forward isolation-free travel for vaccinated and tested visitors before more tourism businesses close.
"Forward bookings for tourism are at record lows. With the Australian school holidays about to begin, and the ski season only months away, the need for a clear announcement of isolation-free travel for visitors has become urgent.''
He said the current impractical rules mean that Australian visitors won't be able to travel here until July.
With more than 95 per cent of Kiwis vaccinated, tourism towns need life to go back to normal, he said.
"The Government needs to explain to small tourism businesses faced with the decision of closing their doors why a family from Queensland who are tested and double vaccinated are a higher risk in Rotorua or Queenstown than a Kiwi family who've popped across to the Gold Coast for the weekend."
Pre-Covid, tourism earned more than $17b and employed more than 300,000 people.
"The Government needs to allow double vaccinated tourists and businesspeople isolation-free travel to New Zealand in time for the Australian school holidays. Every day they continue to sit on their hands, more tourism businesses will close, " said McClay.
Airlines bringing in tourists drive the aviation market in this country and more air capacity means more opportunities for overseas holiday-starved Kiwis to travel again at a reasonable cost.
House of Travel chief executive Bruce Parton today said certainty on reopening borders was needed to help boost air capacity.
''Everyone is hoping for some certainty in the market and then you'll see some volumes coming in.''
Ardern told AM the relaxation of Covid rules for working holiday visas ahead of tourists was done so workers could come in to staff businesses ahead of the return of visitors.
"We are making announcements this week.
''We've got to make sure we have the workforce to support tourists,'' she said.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa said the removal of self-isolation requirements for working holiday visa holders and some skilled workers was is a big step on the road to recovery.
"Working holidaymakers will help fill skill shortages being felt across many sectors, including the primary industries and hospitality. They will also be keenly sought after by many tourism operators who are trying to fill vacancies as they look to address workforce shortages across the industry," TIA communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said.
The working holidaymakers will also provide a welcome boost to the tourism industry as they explore the country.
It was the second anniversary of the closure of New Zealand's borders this week.
''That is 730 days of pain for small and large tourism businesses throughout the motu."
Tourism was the first industry to be affected by the pandemic and will be the last to recover.
''We are heartened that the Government has signalled that our borders are likely to open to international visitors sooner than planned and we are keen to see the new timeline which is expected imminently."
Johnson said it would be wonderful if New Zealand could reopen to Australian visitors in time for their April school holiday period which includes Easter.
''If forecasts are correct, New Zealand's Omicron outbreak will have passed its peak by then."
The current asymmetric border settings mean Kiwis have the option of going to Australia without the ability for Australians to come here. The industry's recovery will not begin until high value business travellers and holidaymakers can enter New Zealand, she said.
Last week the Government extended the air freight support scheme by $250 million to help support airlines flying cargo.