Security screening at regional airports is inevitable, tourism industry leaders say.
Screening currently takes place for aircraft with more than 90 seats, but there was general agreement among speakers at the annual Tourism Summit Aotearoa in Wellington that the days of free-and-easy air travel are numbered.
Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said New Zealand was an outlier when it came to airport security.
"Several years ago when I hosted an American group in Queenstown and they said to me they felt really uncomfortable on ATRs with 90 seats and no security," Mr Sanderson said.
"I thought it was a blessing - you know, you didn't have to go through security - but they actually, they were threatened by it. We are actually an outlier in terms of security in New Zealand."
It was only a matter of time until that changed, he said.
"I think we're going to see security at the front door, probably in the next five years as well. You go to most airports throughout the world now and you'll find that those passengers and farewellers and greeters will go through security and I think that's coming, in time, for New Zealand."
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts agreed changes were coming.
"There will be screening in place for those regional flights. Over time there may well be screening put in place in many of the regional airports that don't have that so it is going to be quite a change for the way we are used to travelling around regional New Zealand. However, in many ways, it's just New Zealand catching up with what is the standard practice overseas," Mr Roberts said.
Airports would be keen to avoid creating delays for passengers, and it could mean an earlier wake-up or check in, he said - and while the cost of additional security is unknown, it would not be cheap.
"Resourcing, infrastructure and staffing. If you're going to start screening flights leaving some of the larger regional airports, you have to have aviation security staff located in those regions and we currently don't have that workforce in place so there's a lot that would have to be catered for to bring in these measures," Mr Roberts said.
The Christchurch mosque attacks were a reminder that New Zealanders should not think they were living in a safe haven free from terrorism, he said.
"We were all shocked by what happened in Christchurch but it did show us that we're not immune to some of the worst things that can happen anywhere on the globe. We have to take security seriously. Travellers have to take their own personal security seriously and as an industry we have to do what we can to keep our visitors safe."
Tourism Summit Aotearoa will continue today.