Otago Daily Times

Labour Day tourism picks up

Disgruntle­d Te Anau business owners are suffering angst over what they feel is ‘‘unfair’’ distributi­on of government financial support following the Covid crisis. reporter Laura Smith talks to those feeling the pinch and peeved by the Government’s respon

- MATTHEW MCKEW matthew.mckew@odt.co.nz

IN spring, Te Anau businesses are usually buzzing. But at a time when tourists would normally be admiring the spring blossom — car parks are empty, hotels remain closed, the streets are quiet and shops have no customers browsing shelves.

Some believe a lack of support from the Government has only accentuate­d the problem.

While news of announceme­nts came thick and fast for Queenstown and further north, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and then tourism minister Kelvin Davis did not open government coffers to Te Anau.

Fiordland Community Board chairwoman Sarah Greaney said from an operators point of view, it looked to be a good season before both the February flooding and Covid19 hit.

She said the delay in opening the area’s walking tracks cost the economy an estimated $1 million to $2 million alone.

Support such as the wage subsidy, packages and schemes offered by the Government did not go far enough to help small businesses, she said.

She said the profession­al package for small businesses offered $5000 for planning for catering to a domestic market, but did not help with the actual implementa­tion.

“They’re struggling from that point of view, they’ve already had to cashflow themselves through the winter.”

It was originally estimated 40% of the Te Anau population would be made redundant; several wellbeing initiative­s were launched in the area as residents’ stress and emotional drain became obvious.

Ms Greaney agreed with community members the Otago

Daily Times spoke to that the distributi­on of funds from central government was on an “uneven playing field”.

“The asset protection funding was very poorly handled by central government in my opinion.”

She said there was massive inequity, with no consistent formula applied — “It’s very hard to see how that fund was fairly distribute­d.”

The “indiscrimi­nate” decisions were blatantly unfair and she said they deserved better than that.

She felt Te Anau had been forgotten about “in lots of ways”.

The town had been affected by flooding, delayed track opening and Covid19.

“I specifical­ly asked for a targeted extension of the wage subsidy just for Fiordland for those three things. We were categorica­lly told that wouldn’t happen.”

There are Outside Sports retail shops in Te Anau, Queenstown and Wanaka — and soon, Tekapo.

Directors John Knight and Darren Grimmett felt the intent of the Government’s Covid19 financial assistance was right.

Mr Knight said he did not think they would have qualified for the $400 million ‘‘activity company lolly scramble’’, but knew of companies that did, while others missed out ‘‘for no apparent reason’’.

He said rules should be clear and easy to understand.

Some of the ‘‘iconic’’ Te Anau businesses had missed out, while other bigger companies did not — he hoped it would be ‘‘retrospect­ively sorted out’’.

Mr Grimmett called it a ‘‘kneejerk reaction’’ and ‘‘possibly a little bit unfair’’.

THINGS are looking tentativel­y busy across Otago and Southland this Labour Weekend, as New Zealanders support local tourism.

Camp sites across the district were reporting some early bookings.

Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park receptioni­st Rachel Davidson said it had experience­d a bumper school holidays and busy period postlockdo­wn but things were finally slowing down this week.

Erna Spijkerbos­ch, owner of Queenstown Holiday Parks and Motels, Creeksyde, said many adventureb­ound tourists preferred a spontaneou­s approach.

‘‘Campsitewi­se New Zealanders don’t tend to prebook unless it’s marathon weekend, Gibbston Valley Concert or Christmas, New Year’s, they just rock up and we’re very pleased to see them when they do.’’

She said with Labour Weekend following close on the heels of school holidays, it could make for a slower weekend

AJ Hackett Bungy NZ received $5,100,000 through the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme — 130 businesses have received support, with most receiving $500,000 or less. These included several Fiordland companies.

Destinatio­n Fiordland received $400,000, and Great South $700,000.

Sandfly Cafe owner Carolyn Fox said there had not been enough support for businesses.

‘‘There probably hasn’t been enough thought gone into where money should be distribute­d.’’

Her understand­ing was that a lot of Te Anau businesses did not

WANAKA QUEENSTOWN CROMWELL ALEXANDRA than usual when internatio­nal visitors were in town.

‘‘The South Island has a million people, the North Island has four million who can drive without using a ferry or an aeroplane, and so that I think has a little bit of impact.’’

Jono Edmonds, from Kingston TOP 10 Holiday Park, said there were only a few bookings so far, but he was bargaining on people turning up on the day.

Over at Clutha Gold Cottages in Roxburgh, Christine Bennenbroe­k said she was fully booked.

‘‘There are definitely a lot of motorhomes on the road for sure, I’ve noticed over the last week or so.’’

She said she was ‘‘lucky’’ to have a lot of return customers and the weather in Central Otago was helping bring New Zealanders out.

‘‘The bike trail may have noticed [a dip] with no overseas people, but talking to people, they’re noticing a lot more New Zealanders are doing it.’’

An increasing number of domestic cycling holidays seemed to be a result of a favourite lockdown pastime for New Zealanders, Tourism Wai

know they were eligible for assistance.

‘‘I believe they probably gave too much to people, whereas that one big amount could have helped 10 small business owners.’’

She imagined there were a few business owners within the town who were disappoint­ed and upset at how quickly the money was distribute­d, with not enough advice from ‘‘top dogs’’.

‘‘It’s sad — it was turning into such a vibrant, busy wee town and through no fault of its own it has lost that.’’

Miles Better Pies owner Paul Johnson said the subsidies they taki general manager Margaret Munro said.

The Old Station Cycle Trail, for example she said, was getting more bookings for summer than in the correspond­ing period last year.

‘‘I think during lockdown a lot of people got back into cycling, so that seems to be driving that and people are building a holiday around that activity.’’

She said the Labour Weekend was often an opportunit­y for New Zealanders to take caravans and boats up to the Waitaki lakes ready for visits through the warmer months.

As for the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, she said people had made forward bookings and it was the perfect time to visit.

Hot Tubs Omarama owner Emma Moore said that the Labour Weekend space was selling out fast and cyclists were filling slots on the slower midweek days, but that was nothing unusual.

In Southland, Destinatio­n Fiordland manager Madeleine Peacock said there were events in the region and Te Anau she hoped would draw visitors. had received had been great.

He also believed funding from the Government had not been fairly distribute­d and it was important to remember there was not just Queenstown.

‘‘I think areas like Te Anau may have missed out on a lot of funding — I think it’s the forgotten town sometimes.

‘‘When they look at tourism in the South Island, it looks more to Queenstown and not so much Te Anau.’’

Destinatio­n Fiordland manager Madeleine Peacock said the town had been hurting since the February floods.

It was hoped with the Great



Walks opening soon, numbers would pick up, and Labour Weekend tended to bring people to town.

In a preCovid world, over the peak season there were up to

5000 people a day visiting Milford Sound and “95% of those come through Te Anau’’.

‘‘However they come, they contribute something to our economy.’’

She said there was still a time of reckoning to come.

There had been ‘‘great support’’ from the regional developmen­t agency in supporting businesses to stay afloat.

Ms Peacock said Fiordland would see “windfall” from the strategic tourism asset protection programme and the regional events fund.

However, business support from the Government had been chaotic, she said.

“We know there are ongoing discussion­s on that. It’s been good for some and devastatin­g for others. It’s created an uneven playing field.”

There should be no resentment from the Te Anau community that individual businesses received significan­t financial support, such as several in Queenstown, because everyone could have applied for it, she said.

“In fact there are multiple businesses that operate across both areas; there’s a benefit for both regions.

“What I’m hearing is sentiment expressed from operators of disappoint­ment when they see competitor­s receiving funding that they didn’t think they were eligible for.”

That caused tension.

While she had no specifics on struggling businesses, Ms Peacock said she knew anecdotall­y there were some just “holding on for the summer”.

She expected the summer season to be busier than it had been so far, as people wanted to complete “bucket list” wishes in the country.


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