June 26, 2020 / 5:43 AM / 14 days ago

New Zealand tourism on a slippery slope as ski season kicks off

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Queenstown, New Zealand, September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s tourism industry is suffering, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday as she launched the ski season in the absence of foreign visitors, who are being kept out to keep the novel coronavirus at bay.

Ardern has urged New Zealanders to travel at home and is considering more holidays to get people out, but operators say they won’t make up for the missing foreigners who bring about half of the industry’s NZ$16.1 billion (US$10.34 billion) annual income.

Ardern launched the ski season in the South Island winter-sports hub of Queenstown and said the enthusiasm of residents and domestic tourists was a sign of hope but she acknowledged the pain.

“There is no denying that this region, with our borders closed, will feel a significant impact,” Ardern told reporters.

New Zealand this month declared it was free of community transmission of the coronavirus and lifted all curbs except for the ban on foreign arrivals, which has been in place for about three months.

The Queenstown district used to earn about NZ$3 billion a year and its economy was growing at more than twice the rate of the national economy, Ardern said.

She did not give an estimate for this year’s income.

Ardern announced a new NZ$85 million ($55 million)infrastructure package for Queenstown, part of NZ$400 million allocated for affected tourism businesses in the budget unveiled last month.

New Zealand is in talks with Australia on a so-called travel bubble to allow people to move between the two countries, but the idea has not made much progress with new cases of the coronavirus cropping up in Australia.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel

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