Tomorrow marks the first time in two years Australians will be able to return to Northland, thanks to the reopening of the international border at midnight tonight.
From 11.59pm, international borders will reopen to all vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents from anywhere in the world.
Yet despite this seemingly positive news, Northland tourism and hospitality operators are hardly rubbing their hands with glee regarding the Aussies' arrival.
This is because they believe the reopening will unlikely have a substantial impact on Northland trade until much later in the year, if at all.
New Zealand's Covid-19 response has been recorded as one of the strictest in the world, with the impact of Covid-19 on Northland's hospitality and tourism industry over the past two years proving devastating.
In late 2021, the Northland Age reported on how Bay of Island tourism operators were predicting a terrible summer trade, not only due to a lack of international tourism, but also because of the decision to keep Northland at the red setting of the Covid-19 Protection Framework.
Input from Mid and Far North tourism businesses in response to Far North Mayor John Carter's request for a prognosis for the 2021/22 summer season showed revenue forecasts were down by between 50 to 90 per cent year on year.
Russell's The Duke of Marlborough Hotel has been operating for 190 years and has long been a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists.
Riki Kinnaird has co-owned the 38-room hotel for the past 12 years and said in a normal, pre-Covid year, Australians would make up 25 per cent of trade.
He said that activity was largely focused between October and April where at its peak, his restaurant would serve around 1500-2000 meals a day and service 30 weddings a year.
At full capacity, his staff numbers would also be around 90 people (made up of domestic and international staff) but was now sitting at about 55 people following the recent departure of five employees to work overseas.
Kinnaird believed a combination of the wrong season plus a lack of resources would mean Bay of Islands tourism and hospitality sectors would continue to struggle despite the reopening of the border to Australian tourists.
"Australians are a big market for the Bay of Islands, but we normally start to see them in November onwards for summer," Kinnaird said.
"We haven't had any bookings yet and I'm not expecting any big waves of Australians, but that will hopefully start to come as we get closer to the end of the year."
Kinnaird said even if there was a large influx of Australian tourists, it was unlikely his low staff numbers could keep up with demand.
He said it was deeply disappointing the Government, in his opinion, had not adequately planned the re-open in way that would benefit the hospitality and tourism sectors.
"The reopening should have coincided with the reintroduction of working holiday visa processing, which as a result, has now left the tourism and hospitality industries unable to meet future demand," Kinnaird said.
"There is a huge disconnect between planning for demand, workforce and infrastructure and even the airlines can't keep up.
"I feel sorry for the people in Queenstown because they are going through that problem right now and I know that will probably be us next."
Kaitaia's popular Harrisons Cape Runner Cape Reinga bus tours echoed a similar sentiment, saying it wasn't economically viable for the business to remain open at this time, even with the reopening of the borders to Australia.
Cheryl Harrison is the co-owner of the 28-year-old tour business and said during peak times, their bus tours would take up to 120 people to the Cape every day, 4-5 days per week.
She said due to a poor 21/22 summer season and restrictions regarding travel due to the Covid-19 Protection Framework, she didn't expect to reopen their tours until closer to next summer.
"We can't afford to stay open only for a few guests and even with the borders open again, we can't predict how many Aussies will want to book a tour with us," Harrison said.
"This is the time most people want to head to the ski fields, so unless we were to get flooded with Aussies, we won't reopen."
Harrison explained the ongoing threat of Covid to her staff was another thing to consider and the potential for it to shut down other areas of their business was too great.
"If we book people and one of our staff members goes down with Covid, what happens then?" Harrison said.
"We are a family business, so if we lose staff, we won't be able to produce what we should be doing.
"I'm therefore not that excited about the Australians at this stage, even though it would be lovely to have them, we can't possibly forecast who will be travelling north."
According to Northland Inc, the Australian market was important to Northland's tourism and hospitality industries as it represented Te Taitokerau's number one international market by a large margin.
Australian visitors usually took part in wine and food, hiking and walking and wildlife experiences, with Te Taitokerau offering a broad range in those interest segments.
Dual heritage story-telling and Māori tourism experiences were also popular with Australian audiences and an important aspect of Northland's unique experience.
Kaitaia Business Association chairwoman Andrea Panther said she welcomed any Australian activity back to the Far North and believed their return would be beneficial for the local economy.
"I'm excited about more outside spending on businesses that have suffered and who employ our local whānau," Panther said.
"It's a ripple effect that can only be good for all of us.
"I'm afraid the Far North advertising usually stops at the Bay of Islands though, which has been a complaint of ours for some time now."
NorthIand Inc Destination general manager Tania Burt confirmed Australian visitation to the region was spread more throughout the year than some markets, usually coinciding with Australian school holidays and Te Taitokerau's summer season.
Burt said not only did the border opening allow for separated whānau to reunite, it also invited the wider VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) market, along with leisure and business visitors back into the region.
"It's been a long, hard journey for many of our tourism and hospitality businesses, and while we don't expect an immediate influx of visitors, having the borders open is the first step towards getting the industry back on its feet," Burt said.
"We're also looking ahead to borders opening to other international markets, which in time will also provide a much-needed boost to operators in Taitokerau Northland's visitor industry.
"Having struggled through last summer's peak season as a result of border restrictions and mandates, our visitor industry needs as much support as it can get to set itself up for success for the 2022/23 season."
The reopening of the international border comes almost two months after the border reopened to vaccinated New Zealanders from Australia on February 27 and to New Zealanders in the rest of the world from March 4.
Travellers will not need to isolate on arrival but will need to provide a pre-departure test and take two RATs on day 0/1 and day 5/6, which applies for all arrivals at the border.
For more information regarding the New Zealand borders, visit: www.covid19.govt.nz