2 Mar 2022

Hotels planning full room refits as managed isolation and quarantine comes to an end

11:45 am on 2 March 2022

Some managed isolation hotels are completely refurbishing their rooms after acting as virus containment zones for the last two years.

Pullman Hotel in Auckland. Managed isolation facility.

Auckland's Pullman Hotel was one of many used as a managed isolation and quarantine facility (file image). Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

They are replacing thousands of towels, sheets and other equipment before tourists stay in the same suites that quarantined overseas arrivals did, many of them with Covid-19.

They expect the pandemic will keep tourist numbers low but are hoping New Zealand's success at containing Covid-19 will be a drawcard.

From this weekend one of the most successful and controversial parts of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, managed isolation, is basically over.

Accor New Zealand was the biggest provider of MIQ hotels in the country with 10 facilities, including the Novotel, the Grand Mercure and the Pullman, among others.

Accor sales and marketing director Iain Ganner said the business had a big job ahead of it refitting rooms ahead of the return of tourists.

"We are replacing all bedding, linen, towels, soft furnishings, just because of high use. I think it's about 3600 beds overall for us," Ganner said.

Normally people only spent eight hours a day in a hotel room; in MIQ they spent 23 hours.

The hotels will completely closed down to do the refits, Ganner said.

They also have to retrain staff for a role they had not done in two years, and get things like bars and restaurants back up and running before they can reopen to visitors.

"So 30 days downtime, we expect. We also want to reward those employees that have been through this pandemic and on the frontline for the last two years and give them a bit of a break as well," Ganner said.

Being able to serve the country by providing MIQ was "immensely rewarding", Ganner said, but laughed and said they like it when people come into their hotels voluntarily.

Hotel Council Aotearoa's James Doolan said frontline hotel staff at MIQs around the country had done an incredible job.

"Some of them were shunned by their friends when there was a lot of virus fear about. It's been an extraordinary effort from the hard workers at those properties to spend two years doing something completely different from what they trained to do," Doolan said.

Ganner said Accor was expecting about 60 or 70 percent of its pre-pandemic business back by summer 2022-23.

However, he was hoping New Zealand's Covid-19 success would be a drawcard for many people.

"We're getting great signals out from markets such as the US and Canada of great demand to come to New Zealand," Ganner said.

"New Zealand's reputation has been elevated over the pandemic. I think there'll be additional demand coming from those markets."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson said it was expected to take some time for tourist volumes to rebound.

"If we can get the Australians in for the ski season that'd be an enormous help through the winter. But next summer, we're still not going to see significant numbers of visitors," Johnson said.

"Tourism Industry Aotearoa has done work that suggests we won't be getting to whatever the new business as usual level of business is for four or five years."

The government also waived the need for tourists to enter MIQ or self isolate, whenever it was they were able to enter New Zealand.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said "Cabinet has agreed to lift all self-isolation requirements for vaccinated travellers entering New Zealand from 11:59pm, Wednesday 2 March. That means that all Kiwis coming home and tourists entering the country will be able to step off the plane and immediately connect with family and friends and enjoy all New Zealand has to offer".

Doolan said that was a crucial step for the sector to be able to recover.

"No rational tourist was ever going to come back to New Zealand if they had to spend the first seven days looking at the inside of a hotel room."

The entire industry is now hanging out for a firm date for the return of foreign tourists. The government says it will confirm that in the next couple of weeks.

Though mostly over, MIQ is not completely done - it is still needed for some people, including unvaccinated New Zealanders and people who test positive for the virus but can't safely isolate at home.

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