OPINION: It’s safe to say 2021 didn’t go exactly as we thought it would.
We started the year full of optimism, with visions of travel bubbles floating around our heads. We believed vaccine passports would be the golden tickets for restarting international travel.
Now here we are, 12 months later, with nothing more than flight credits to show for our travel dreams.
We can only hope 2022 will be a better year for travellers. But to mark the end of this annus horribilis, we present some special awards for the best and worst in travel.
* The overseas destinations we’ll have the best chances of visiting in 2022
* Explore New Zealand: What’s new to visit in 2022
* Top 10 Travel stories of 2021: When things go wrong
The Cook Islands was our sixth-most visited destination in 2019, but in 2021 the Pacific Island nation shot to the top of the list thanks to the travel bubble that opened in May.
When the trans-Tasman bubble was suspended in July, the Cooks became our only option for an international escape, with Kiwi tourists single-handedly helping the islands return to close to pre-Covid levels of visitor numbers.
Unfortunately, the Cook Islands bubble was also suspended as a result of New Zealand’s Delta outbreak in August, but the quarantine-free arrangement is set to restart in January. This persistence makes it the worthy recipient of our best overseas destination award.
The Government had been teasing it for months, so it was with huge fanfare that the two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia opened in April.
But it soon became clear the arrangement was as fragile as the substance from which it took its name, as it had to be repeatedly paused due to Covid-19 outbreaks.
In July, New Zealand pulled the pin on its side of the bubble, and Australia did the same the following month, leaving travellers stranded on both sides of the ditch.
“Vaccine passports” became a new travel buzzword as it became clear that some form of vaccine verification would be needed to fly.
Several international airlines – including Air New Zealand – started trialling the IATA Travel Pass, a mobile app that stores passengers’ Covid-19 test results and vaccine certificates.
And at home, Air New Zealand announced that all domestic passengers would either need to be fully vaccinated or present a negative Covid-19 test, as vaccine passes came into use under the traffic light system.
In early 2021, the Department of Internal Affairs was encouraging Kiwis to “avoid the rush” and renew their passports while borders remained closed, with more than 300,000 of us sitting on an expired travel document.
But unless you were lucky enough to get to Australia or the Cook Islands this year, those of us who heeded that advice have now wasted 1/10th of our passport validity.
Runner-up: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Sporting royalty Richie and Gemma McCaw took to their new gig with Tourism New Zealand with gusto, traversing the country to encourage Kiwis to explore their own backyard.
Meanwhile, former royalty Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave New Zealand some unexpected PR when they revealed in their infamous Oprah interview in March that they had considered a move here.
Runner-up: Reconnecting our borders, August
Ding dong, MIQ is dead! Or so we thought in November, when Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced fully vaccinated Kiwis would be able to skip the quarantine hotels and self-isolate at home for seven days, starting from January 17 for arrivals from Australia.
Hipkins even went as far as to say the dates were “locked in” – but just a few days later, the World Health Organisation would announce that a new variant of concern, Omicron, had emerged. The border reopening has now been pushed back to the end of February.
It was the most unfortunate timing since the Government first outlined its plans for the border reopening back in August, only to find itself dealing with a community Delta outbreak less than a week later.
Another year of closed borders and domestic disruption was bad news for Air New Zealand, but they remained focused on the important issues – like what inflight snacks the people want.
In June, the national carrier trialled changes to its domestic food and beverage service, adding popcorn, crisps, muesli bars and chocolate, alongside the traditional cookie offering (which earlier in the year courted controversy after Breakfast presenter Matty McLean was given a shortbread version instead of the classic chocolate chip).
Flying in a private jet might sound like the ultimate travel fantasy, but for some travellers it became the only option to get themselves home, after Australia suddenly closed its borders to New Zealand. With commercial flights in short supply, some shelled out thousands of dollars on charter flights.
Tāmaki Makaurau had the toughest time of all of us in 2021, spending more than 100 days in lockdown. Despite being cut off from the country, Aucklanders made the most of their limited freedoms, enjoying outdoor picnics and walks all over the region. Thankfully, they can now spread their wings as well as their legs, after the hard border finally lifted on December 15.
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