New Zealand has become one of the last destinations around the world to drop its restrictions on travelers and specifically to announce as of midnight its ports were open for cruise ships and recreational yachts. The island nation closed its borders in March 2020 like most countries around the world to stop the spread of the virus and was highly successful but also elected to maintain restrictions for 28 months or nearly 900 days, long after other destinations relaxed restrictions.
“Globally there is pent-up demand for people to visit New Zealand. In January, 58 percent of Australians who would like to visit New Zealand wanted to come within six months of borders opening. This number is even higher for our American target market, at 77 percent and we’re ready for them,” said Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
Nash and Immigration Minister Michael Wood issued a joint statement to mark the end of the travel restrictions. They noted that some elements had been relaxed earlier, such as since April visitors from key markets such as Australia had been able to travel to New Zealand. Midnight on July 31, however, marked the opening of the maritime border to cruise ships, specialist vessels, and recreational vessels such as ocean-going yachts.
“The return of cruise ships is another boost for local communities. Pre-pandemic their visits were worth in excess of NZ$500 million (approximately US$315 million) a year, of which NZ$356 million (US$225 million) was spent onshore, providing a valuable economic contribution to our regions,” said Nash. “Most cruise visits are during the warmer months of October to April, and summer is our bumper tourism season overall. This means it will be full steam ahead for the industry who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ports of Auckland reports that over 100 cruise ships called into Auckland every year, bringing in more than 300,000 people to New Zealand. They estimated that each visit contributed more than US$600,000 to the local economy. The last ship to leave Auckland was the MS Bremen (Hapag Lloyd), which departed on April 18, 2020
The local cruise industry noted that the decision had been a long time in coming but welcomed the news ahead of the approaching peak season. There had been previous attempts to restart limited cruising from New Zealand that had failed due to restrictions and the government’s strong stance. There had been a proposal for a limited bubble between Australia and New Zealand and 18 months ago French cruise operator Ponant was forced to cancel a series of cruises around New Zealand due to a dispute over visas for the crew. The cruise line said there was a misunderstanding on its plans for crew with the New Zealand government saying the ships needed to be mostly manned by residents to maintain the COVID-19 bubble.
Australia ended its federal restrictions on cruises in April 2022 permitting the local government to establish its cruise protocols. Cruising resumed in Australia in June with P&O Cruises while other lines are planning to return for the 2022-2023 season.
With New Zealand and Australia open for cruising China remains the largest market that remains closed to the international cruise market. At the end of June 2022, Malaysia also reopened its borders to international cruises. A Royal Caribbean International cruise ship made the first call with passengers at Port Klang and Resort World Cruises is planning to also resume sailings with calls to Malaysia.