international students in New Zealand
New Zealand could fill the tourism gaps left in Queenstown by using its vast hotel and land space to quarantine international students coming into the country. Source: Marty Melville/AFP

In 2019, there were 81,175 international students in New Zealand tertiary institutions.

Getting them back in the country is now a priority. Otherwise, higher education providers are anticipating a revenue loss of 600 million New Zealand dollars this year.

To minimise this loss, an idea has emerged to make Queenstown a quarantine town for incoming international students. This would involve them flying directly into Queenstown, then staying there for 14 days.

Why Queenstown, why now?

international students in New Zealand

A fine day in Queenstown back in 2014, when the New Zealand cricket team went against the West Indies. Source: Marty Melville/AFP

“Queenstown has got the hotels free, it’s got the space free, it’s got an international airport — it’s a logical site to be bringing international students into for quarantine,” said Penny Simmonds, chief executive of Southern Institute of Technology.

Simmonds pointed out that since international students in New Zealand stay up to three years, spending a fortnight in quarantine would not be a “big deal”.

“We have to be able to work quickly to work out a way in which they can safely come in.”

First, government agencies must review border controls and quarantine measures.

“We know that international education will be an important part of New Zealand’s rebuild and recovery, especially in the regions,” said Andy Jackson, Deputy Secretary Graduate Achievement, Vocation and Careers.

International students in New Zealand can help boost Queenstown

international students in New Zealand

Prince William (R) and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (C), returning from a boat trip on the “Shotover Jet” in Queenstown back in 2014. Source: Mark Mitchell Pool/AFP

“Under the current circumstances, any concept that helps workers and businesses in the Queenstown Lakes district is worthy of consideration,” said Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult.

“Naturally, however, we would need to be satisfied that this did not bring an increased level of health risk to our residents.”

In early June, The Queenstown Lakes District Council opened the Kia Kaha Queenstown Lakes Community Hub. Its main purpose is to provide information and guidance to those stranded by COVID-19.

RNZ News reports that this centre has served over 400 migrant workers and employers as of 11 June. This paints a promising picture of Queenstown’s potential as an entryway for international students into New Zealand.

As one of the popular backpacking towns in the South Island, Queenstown has been hit hard by COVID-19. It typically welcomes two million international visitors yearly, which contributes NZ$2.4 billion to the local economy.

Now that New Zealand’s borders are closed to global travellers, businesses in Queenstown are relying on domestic tourism and trapped visitors to stay afloat.

According to the BBC, more than half of Queenstown’s 28,000 population is employed in the tourism sector.

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