For the first time in two years, New Zealand welcomed tourists from more than 50 countries including the US, UK, Canada and Japan.

New Zealand reopened its borders for the first time in more than two years to travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and more than 50 other countries.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said thousands of people were expected to arrive in New Zealand on Monday.

“Today is a day of celebration and an important moment for us to reconnect with the world,” he said.

Before the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited New Zealand each year, accounting for 20 per cent of the country’s foreign income and more than 5 per cent of the overall economy.

But international tourism came to a complete halt in early 2020 after New Zealand imposed some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.

The border rules remain in effect as the government initially pursued an elimination strategy and then tried to strictly control the spread of the virus.

More than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s 5 million people have been vaccinated with omicron and vaccines, prompting a gradual easing of restrictions.

Three weeks ago and on Monday, New Zealand reopened to tourists from Australia to about 60 visa-free countries, including most of Europe.

Most tourists from India, China and other non-exempt countries are still barred from entering.

Visitors are required to be vaccinated and tested for the virus upon arrival.

At Auckland Airport, passenger-inducing flights began landing early in the morning, with direct flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

The reopening of borders will help boost tourism ahead of New Zealand’s upcoming ski season. But the real test of how far tourism can rebound will come in December, when the southern hemisphere country’s peak summer season begins.