After a global lockdown travel and tourism is gearing up for a fresh new start, but there's a long way to go writes Thomas Bywater
COMMENT: On May 18th something unusual happened. For the first time in over 50 years, the skies cleared of planes and not a single passenger arrived or departed New Zealand.
0 arrivals and 0 departures is something that Customs data has no record of happening before. You'd have to dig through the archives as far back as the early 1960s before you see even similar figures.
Since the border was closed to anyone other than residents in March, the plug has been pulled on inbound travel and the machine that powers a fifth of Kiwi exports has ground to a halt.
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For operators, hotels and businesses geared towards international tourists the world has shrunk. 42 cent of every dollar spent by holidaymakers comes in from over seas.
In recent years brand New Zealand has boomed and so have Kiwi companies, from Air New Zealand to AJ Hackett bungy jumps. It's only now, in the thick of a pandemic, that we realise how precarious an empire we have built on long-haul flights and adventure tourism. Peering over the edge into the abyss below the Kawarau Bridge, one can't help but wonder: what will it look like when international travel resumes?
There is no doubt that one day New Zealand will be open again to international visitors. They'll be back. Although 'when' and 'in what number' is hard to predict, it's certain international travel will look very different for the foreseeable future. This could have its advantages.
"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," is economist Paul Romer's adage that gets wheeled out at every chance. Whilst spoken like someone who doesn't run a tour company in Wanaka, he has a point. A crisis is time to make bold moves and accelerate uncomfortable decisions that have been put off for too long.
These are important moves that shouldn't really have taken a pandemic and global lockdown to make.
Now there is promise of a return to trans-Tasman air routes 'within weeks' and some semblance of normality, we must ask: what do we want from the new normal? A question, I'll ask again in a series of articles. We'll see how to combat carbon-offset apathy (more exciting than it sounds, I promise!) and New Zealand's first electric air routes.
While the international travel machines idles, we should see chance at a reset for the opportunity it is. Now is a chance to rebuild in a tourism infrastructure that is not just greener but more robust.