For the first time since COVID-19 struck in early 2020, New Zealand welcomed thousands of tourists from across the world on Monday when the country opened its borders to visitors from approximately 60 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.
As the first aircraft from Los Angeles and San Francisco arrived in Auckland, Maori cultural artists sang songs at the arrivals gate and passengers were given popular locally manufactured chocolate bars.
Friends and relatives hugged and sobbed as they were reunited for the first time in over two years for some.
Garth Halliday, who was waiting at the airport for his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson to arrive from London, told local media that seeing so many families reunited made him joyful and tearful.
During the epidemic, New Zealand imposed some of the tightest restrictions in the world, and only recently began to loosen the increasingly unpopular rules in the hopes of boosting tourism and alleviating labor shortages now that the Omicron strain is ubiquitous in the country.
In February and March, the borders were opened to New Zealanders and Australians. Visitors from more than 60 visa-exempt countries can now enter as long as they are vaccinated and COVID-free. Isolation isn’t required in any way.
At the U.S. Business Summit in Auckland, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that international tourists will “bring back a piece that has been missing from New Zealand and New Zealanders.”
On Monday, 43 foreign planes carrying roughly 9,000 people were scheduled to arrive or leave from Auckland International Airport.
Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand’s Chief Customer and Sales Officer, said demand had surpassed expectations, with several of the services sold out.
“This is great news for New Zealand’s tourist economy, which has been through a lot,” she added.
Tourists from a number of countries, notably India and China, are still restricted, with the ban not lifting until October.