NZ still 'lagging behind' on opening up - Flight Centre boss

Source: 1News

Flight Centre NZ's boss says tourism operators are excited to see the removal of pre-departure Covid testing requirements, but that the country was still "lagging behind on making it easy to travel".

Speaking to Breakfast, managing director David Coombes said negative Covid-19 test requirements had been a deterrent for tourists.

On Thursday, the Government removed pre-departure testing requirements for people entering Aotearoa from 11.59pm on June 20.

"[It was] very much a deterrent for tourists coming to New Zealand - the risk of booking a trip and then not being able to get in," Coombes said.

"Our tourism operators will absolutely be ecstatic that we can start getting inflows. Now we just need to get as many visitors to the country as we can. "

READ MORE: No more pre-departure tests for travellers to NZ from June 20

Coombes said it had been a challenge for people to upload their negative test results. He said the sector was still waiting to hear whether vaccination requirements to enter New Zealand would ease, but added the country was "lagging behind".

"We're sort of lagging behind the rest of the world in making it easy to travel, and that's resulting in a restriction of airline capacity and seats into-and-out of New Zealand," he said.

Passenger plane (file picture).

"The rest of the world is opening up, we're a little bit behind, but we can catch up. So long as we can take away some of these complications for travel."

He later said that his counterparts overseas felt New Zealand's re-opening was slow.

"I've talked to my colleagues and counterparts globally, on a weekly basis, and you know, we're very aware of how other markets have opened up ahead of us," he said. Everybody's just been saying 'come on you Kiwis, come and catch up with us'."

But, Coombes said going overseas right now would continue to present a "tricky situation" for travellers and recommended using a travel expert to manage paperwork.

"Make sure you're coming and talking to an expert, at the moment, because we can help you navigate travel," he said. "If you're trying to do it yourself, it's quite difficult."

He said Flight Centre was already trading at around 80% of pre-Covid levels, but was only doing so with around 30% of its pre-pandemic staff.

"We stayed really connected with our ex-flighties, as we call them - who were very sadly made redundant through Covid - and we've brought a lot of flighties back, which is fantastic," he said. "Anyone who's out there, and you're passionate about travel, come and talk to us because we're looking for people."

On Thursday Tourism Minister Stuart Nash welcomed the removal of the Covid-19 pre-departure tests.

"It's positive we're able to safely remove pre-departure tests before the winter tourism season and the upcoming Australian school holidays. I know this news will be welcomed by tourism operators across the country," he said.

"The removal of the test means planning a trip to New Zealand is made easier and cheaper. So for those people overseas who have been dreaming of international travel, my message is simple: New Zealand is open, and we're ready to welcome you."

Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said it was "safe" to lift the requirement much sooner than planned due to the Government's staged approach to reopening New Zealand's borders.

"With cases continuing to decline despite over 387,000 arrivals since the borders reopened there is evidence this measure can now be lifted," Verrall said.

"Around 90% of international arrivals undertake their required testing once they are in the country, with only a 2-3% positivity rate. So we don't anticipate a significant increase in border cases once the requirement is lifted."