2 Apr 2020

Covid-19 lockdown: Tourists face hefty plane ticket costs to return home

8:27 am on 2 April 2020

Overseas visitors are paying thousands of dollars for flights home or are facing being left in limbo in lockdown.

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Photo: lenor/123RF

The tourism industry estimates about 100,000 visitors remain in the country.

British visitor Christopher Brown was working as a canyoning guide in Nelson when Covid-19 first hit headlines.

After losing his job, he managed to catch the last Auckland-bound flight and booked his trip home for last Sunday.

But he was turned away at the airport as transit options shut down.

"I haven't got the funds to stay here for too long and every flight that you book on your credit card - and gets cancelled - obviously you have to wait for refunds on them. So the refunds are generally like eight to 10 days before you get the money back," Brown said.

"Every time you book a flight, that money is kind of lost if you don't get on it basically, so there will be a point when the credit limit will run out on the credit cards and I'll run out of money, and I'm not really sure what I'll do then."

Brown has been holed up in a hotel near Auckland Airport for days, trying to book flights home but finding they were either expensive, cancelled or not available.

He said the flights that are there would cost him thousands of dollars.

"We've actually received pictures from other people who have been stranded here who've managed to get on flights back to the UK and there's actually no-one on the flight."

On Wednesday night, Brown successfully booked and boarded his flight home.

German visitor Markus Erdorf has been checking flights home for his wife and their five-year-old son after their flight booked for May was cancelled.

"The last two or three days I was checking for flights and they were really very, very expensive flights - more than $20,000, $30,000 [New Zealand dollars]. So really, really expensive," he said.

They are locked down in Timaru's Top 10 Holiday Park.

Erdorf said they would like to stay until May as originally planned but would consider leaving earlier on a German government mercy flight if there was a chance.

"In case it's not done after these four weeks and they will extend the lockdown or there's still no flights, then we have a problem," Erdorf said.

"That's the situation that we have at the moment so we are thinking every day - if someone is giving us a call and saying 'okay, tomorrow is your flight'. What should we do?"

But another German visitor Johannes Philipp was in no rush to hop on a mercy flight, saying he is comfortable and safe where he is.

"If there are planes of our government coming to New Zealand to take people out of here, we think these should be for these people who are really in a difficult situation, and not people like us. We are retired so we think for us, it's no problem to stay a little bit longer," Philipp said.

Belgian tourist Lisa Callebaut is in lockdown on someone's back lawn in Rotorua.

"Sometimes I'm thinking like now someone is going to say 'oh, it was all a big joke'. But it's a bit weird, it's like being in a movie and things happening and not being able to change something. I'm supposed to be travelling and not be sitting in a house all day," Callebaut said.

She was not sure what she was going to do.

"I actually didn't want to take the risk of travelling to Rotorua and coming in to contact with a lot of other people on one side. But also I don't want to take the risk of getting stuck in Auckland and maybe not having a flight, and being in an airport in a big city and not having any solution to stay somewhere," Callebaut said.

Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black said work was under way to help to repatriate international visitors.

"This is complex work and more difficult because of the reduction of commercial flights out of New Zealand," she said.

"In the meantime, it's important for these people visiting our country to stay in self-isolation in their current location and keep in touch with their relevant embassy or consulate."

Some local councils are offering welfare programmes for international visitors, and the government has confirmed work is under way to support those stranded.

Ministry of Social Development client service delivery group general manager George van Ooyen said he encouraged visitors to check its website in the coming weeks for further updates.

"We understand the current situation is impacting people in many ways and are doing all we can to provide assistance to people in need," he said.

"Currently our advice to people who are here from overseas, who are not currently employed, and are experiencing financial difficulty during Covid-19 alert level four should talk to their Embassy or Consulate for assistance."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

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