Queenstown welcomes back international flights, 330 days after its last

Bob and Barbara Maidment arrive at Queenstown Airport on the first trans-Tasman flight into the town in nearly a year.

Olivia Caldwell / Stuff

Bob and Barbara Maidment arrive at Queenstown Airport on the first trans-Tasman flight into the town in nearly a year.

After 330 days, Queenstown has finally welcomed back international flights, with Tourism Minister Stuart Nash saying he’s confident it marks the “start of something really positive”.

He and Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult were at Queenstown Airport on Monday to greet Australians back to the region. Boult said he had his fingers crossed that “this time it’s permanent”.

“I am having a sense of déjà vu, as a little over a year ago we welcomed everyone when the bubble openedand I was standing here with an Anzac biscuit. “

Monday’s Qantas flight direct form Sydney arrived at 4.20pm to music and ‘welcome to Queenstown’ goodie bags, but Boult acknowledged it was going to take a lot of time to get the tourist town back on its feet.

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“I would have loved this to happen sooner, but we are where we are.”

His biggest concern for the district was getting enough international workers for hospitality venues to cater for the incoming tourists expected this ski season.

Boult said bookings for winter were looking good so far.

Nash said the return of trans-Tasman flights did not make up for the blow the tourism industry had experienced over the last couple of years, but he was hopeful it was a turning point.

Queenstown businesses are looking forward to having more tourists back in their district.

Olivia Caldwell / Stuff

Queenstown businesses are looking forward to having more tourists back in their district.

“I know a whole lot of people have done it really hard, but I think this is the start of something really positive.”

Qantas was the first airline to resume direct flights between Australia and Queenstown, to be followed by Jetstar on June 2, and Air New Zealand on June 24.

Virgin planned to restart its trans-Tasman services to Queenstown in November.

Queenstown Airport said airlines had strong demand from Australia and activity into Queenstown was predicted to ramp up significantly as winter approached.

Kavinda Herath / Stuff

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash talks about New Zealand tourism in Queenstown. (First published March 2021)

“With the pent-up demand that we know exists in New South Wales … you’ve got a lot of Australians just amping to get on a flight down here and spend a lot of money and have a fantastic time,” Nash said .

He acknowledged businesses had been doing it tough, “but there is a lot of resilient businessmen and women who have seen out the worst of times”.

Some of the hardest hit areas were in the South Island, including the West Coast, Milford Sound, Te Anau and Queenstown, he said.

The Government had been working with Tourism New Zealand on “strong campaigns” to entice overseas visitors.

Nash said worker shortages in tourism hot spots were now a key challenge. It was a “worldwide issue” and one the Government would be concentrating on.

“There are still challenges but at least there are still going to be people with accents arriving walking up and down the town and in the bars, going to the wineries and on the skifields.”

Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry was happy to welcome Australians back to the region finally.

“We know Aussies are keen to visit the lower South Island and that our airport community and local businesses are even more excited to welcome them back.”

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash and Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult greet passengers arriving on the first flight to Queenstown from Sydney in nearly a year.

Olivia Caldwell / Stuff

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash and Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult greet passengers arriving on the first flight to Queenstown from Sydney in nearly a year.

The first flight to land on Monday marked an important part of the region’s recovery after an incredibly challenging two years, he said.

“During peak days in the middle of July we are expecting up to 57 flights (arrivals and departures) and about one third of those will be trans-Tasman.”

Before the pandemic, 30% of all passenger arrivals and departures at Queenstown Airport came from trans-Tasman flights.

He said airlines had scheduled capacity to about 75% of their pre-Covid levels this winter. Winter capacity on domestic routes was similar to last year.

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