Deep disappointment for the ‘abandoned’ tourism sector in New Zealand | business and economy

When New Zealand announced plans to finally return international visitors this week, Eve Lawrence, general manager of the Haka Tourism Group in Auckland, found no reason to celebrate.

After nearly two years of border closures that have hit business, Lawrence will have to wait at least five months beforehand. welcome customers from abroad, Still, tourists will have to self-isolate at home for seven days – a requirement Lawrence believes will deter many people from visiting.

“We’ve lost the heat now this year and potentially we’re losing next summer as well because we’re dependent on people coming to New Zealand longer – I mean it’s a long way off,” Lawrence said. Travel agents and airlines should not promote New Zealand under such circumstances.

“They won’t sell New Zealand, they’ll kick us out of brochures.”

Lawrence said his company, whose revenues have fallen nearly 95 percent during the pandemic, is now poised for potentially the toughest six months of business.

“The last 21 months have been an absolute slog,” she said.

New Zealand’s decision to close its borders in March 2020 helped the country remain largely COVID-19-free during the pandemic, until a major delta outbreak in September prompted officials to call for a “zero COVID” elimination strategy. not forced to go away.

New Zealand has reported one of the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, with just 41 deaths [File Brendon O’Hagan/Bloomberg]

The South Pacific country has reported less than 11,000 COVID-19 cases and just 41 deaths, one of the lowest tolls in the world.

But the country’s strict border policies have left it increasingly isolated as most countries other than China reopened trying to live with the virus. While New Zealand’s economy grew 2.8 percent overall in the second quarter, there has been little respite for the country’s tourism and travel sector, which before the pandemic employed more than 225,000 people and accounted for 20 percent of exports.

In May, a survey conducted by tourism industry Aotearoa found that tourism businesses laid off an average of 40 percent of employees and saw revenues cut in half over the past 12 months.

On Wednesday, the Youth Hostel Association announced that it would be closing all 11 of its hostels permanently, citing the vanishing prospects of a summer travel revival and a pandemic that “would be difficult for us to be able to ride it out”. too long” was gone.

Brian Westwood, former CEO of the Youth Hostel Association, said the limit’s announcement was disappointing for an area that had been “mostly abandoned” throughout the pandemic.

“It’s impossible to estimate the impact because so many businesses are being privately held and run with personal finances, mortgaged homes and family loans,” Westwood said. “Six months and with no international visitors and less domestic visitors is an unbearable situation for many.

Our industry is innovative, our operators are diligent and have found many ways to keep their heads above water, but the rising tide of debt will be too much for some. ,

Westwood said businesses do not understand why vaccinated New Zealanders may be allowed into the country from January, but not visitors from overseas.

“Restricting tours to New Zealanders simply defies logic,” he said. “It’s great for New Zealanders and is politically shrewd but it does nothing for the tourism sector.”

‘Smaug Hermit Kingdom’

Under limit plans announced by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday, fully vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be allowed entry without self-isolating from January 17, New Zealanders in other countries will be allowed 14 Entry will be allowed from February. Fully vaccinated international visitors will be allowed from 30 April but will have to self-isolate for seven days.

Although New Zealand’s strict COVID-19 policies have been widely supported by the public, there are growing signs of discontent.

Earlier this month, thousands took to the streets in Wellington protest vaccine mandate and lockdown.

Although still well ahead of her rivals, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s approval rating has fallen sharply from a record-breaking high in the early days of the pandemic. In September, John Key, a former prime minister of the rival National Party, warned in a newspaper op-ed that the country had to learn to live with COVID-19 and could not exist as a “smug hermit kingdom”.

Michael Plank, a COVID-19 modeller at the University of Canterbury who has advised the New Zealand government, said despite the disappointment in the tourism sector, most New Zealanders supported a cautious approach to easing border restrictions.

“We are still managing the transition from our previous eradication strategy toward a more ‘COVID normal’ through ongoing vaccine rollouts,” Planck said. “Many parts of New Zealand are still COVID free. It won’t last forever, but it’s worth preserving in the short term because we’re still getting vaccinated.”

“We also need to keep an eye on potential new forms of anxiety,” Planck said. “Border measures could be an important tool to protect against a potentially new version of the vaccine.”

For businesses dependent on tourism, New Zealand’s isolation has already been too long. While Haka Tourism was able to sell off many properties to survive, Lawrence believes many businesses would not last long.

“Over the past four months, if it’s taught me anything, is they change their mind every other week,” she said.

“We are using the same methods and the same tools that we had in March 2020 and we are failing to adapt and change as COVID adapts and changes. I don’t think there is anything to be proud of.”


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