Auckland Airport's international terminal is "eerily quiet" today as a prominent group of New Zealanders call for debate on a strategy to reopen the borders.
The airport says its domestic travel numbers these school holidays are 43 per cent down on last year. On the busiest days this year 16,100 travellers will pass through the domestic terminal at the airport which this week announced more job losses.
July school holidays are traditionally the busiest travel period outside of the Christmas break at Auckland Airport, said Anna Cassels-Brown, the airport's general manager operations.
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Air New Zealand has added extra flights and capacity and Jetstar restarted its domestic operation on Wednesday, with a total 2651 flights scheduled over the school holiday period through Auckland
Of the domestic destinations, Queenstown has experienced the biggest boost from school holidays with passenger numbers doubling over the two-week break compared to the weeks leading up to it.
All food and beverage operators and most retailers will be open for both travellers and others at the domestic terminal. This week Auckland Airport's Park & Ride facility, and the SkyBus service between the city and the airport have re-opened, she said.
But the international terminal remained "eerily quiet" due to travel restrictions.
"Without July school holiday destinations such as the Pacific Islands available, our international traveller numbers are 95 per cent lower than normal. On average only around 1100 international passengers are forecast to arrive or depart each day over the holiday fortnight," she said.
The airport is also urging continued physical distancing by travellers.
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"While physical distancing isn't a requirement under Alert Level 1, we are encouraging customers to keep their distance from people they don't know in public places, and for everyone to take extra care with hygiene."
On Wednesday the company announced a total of 25 redundancies on top of 180 employees and contractors who lost their jobs in the first round in April.
The airport has deferred $2 billion worth of capital projects, including terminal upgrades, aircraft facilities, and work on a second runway.
The bubble battle
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning said a transtasman bubble was on the horizon although did not commit to any timing of relaxing border restrictions.
But a powerful group of New Zealanders is urging the Government to consider reopening the borders, and abandon a strategy of totally eliminating the Covid-19 virus.
The former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, former prime minister Helen Clark and former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe say an extended delay in opening the borders will further damage the economy and social wellbeing, and it's time to develop a reopening strategy.
Is New Zealand prepared to hold itself in its state of near-total isolation for the indefinite future? Even opening the transtasman bubble looks further away than it did a month ago with resurgent community spread in at least one Australian state, said the conversation paper which was peer reviewed by epidemiologist Sir David Skeggs.
The hoped-for early links with Singapore had similarly evaporated.
"Are there Pacific countries that we could now open up to with green lanes? Some other countries are starting to create green lanes, but they have not adopted the elimination strategy."
The latter places higher expectations on the system, the paper said.
"While we pin our hopes on a vaccine, it could be much further away than the hype suggests. Can we afford to wait out another year, two years, or even more in almost total physical isolation?"
This is not just affecting tourism and export education, but also the many ways in which New Zealand projects and leverages its place in the world, the paper says.
An aviation lobby group is backing the call.
NZAC (New Zealand Aviation Coalition) said it welcomed the discussion on how New Zealand might open its border.
"Kiwis are understandably cautious, but it is important that they talk about this and think broadly about what their and the country's future might look like if a vaccine for Covid-19 is some years away," said coalition chairman Justin Tighe-Umbers.
The coalition says it is committed to continue working with the Government to ensure the systems the aviation sector already has in place to successfully manage returning New Zealanders, those handling cargo and airport and border staff, will meet the protocols the Government establishes to allow "other people" safely across the border.
Magnitude of tourism hit
MBIE figures show just how badly hit total tourism spending was.
It plunged 11 per cent to $26.2 billion in the year ended May.
The West Coast region experienced the biggest decline for the year ended May 2020 with a 22 per cent decline. The Hawke's Bay and Taranaki regions had the smallest decline in tourism spend, both down 8 per cent compared with the year to May 2020.
Domestic tourism spend rebounded significantly during alert level 2 (the second half of May for most regions. Expenditure remained 48 per cent lower than the same month a year ago, but much improved from the low numbers seen in April 2020.
Total domestic tourism expenditure in May was $827m, almost four times higher than recorded in April.
The level 4 lockdown that began on March 26 effectively stopped all international and domestic tourism, with the exception of some longer-term international visitors. The alert level was moved to level 3 on April 27, partially lifting some lockdown restrictions, but banning all inter-regional travel (and most domestic tourism).
On May 13 the country moved to level 2, lifting the rest of the lockdown restrictions, and allowing for domestic tourism, while maintaining physical distancing and gathering size limits.