Fifa fan fears: Where will they how will they travel and eat in
The world is headed to New Zealand for the Fifa Women’s World Cup and, Kevin Norquay discovers, we are not even close to ready.
New Zealand is not ready to host Fifa’s Women’s World Cup this winter, say sectors of a tourism industry debilitated by skills, staff and infrastructure shortages.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to visit during the Cup, the world’s largest sporting event for women, which in 2019 attracted more than a billion TV viewers.
World champions USA, who drew an estimated 130,000 fans to Europe in 2019, are one of 15 countries hosted in July and August, with matches in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin. Fifa predicts around 30,000 international visitors, along with a large domestic audience.
Whether those fans will be able to eat, travel and find somewhere to stay is a topic for concerned tourism operators. The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says it’s working on fixes.
Those who summered in holiday spots will have anticipated the fate that awaits global footy fans, if the Government can’t pull a quick fix, with the question being whether Fifa presents an exciting opportunity for businesses that struggled over Covid – or whether it will be an own goal.
This summer, travellers have noticed eateries either closed due to lack of staff, crammed to the hilt – with meals taking an age to arrive – or simply turning customers away. There are not enough chefs and too few other staff, confirms Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois.
‘‘Unfortunately, staffing levels are at crisis point.’’
Hotels, too, have cut down on rooms they let or have offered subsidies for those who don’t want a daily clean and James Doolan from the Hotel Council Aotearoa said it’s ‘‘fair to say there are concerns’’ about an accommodation shortage .
A worker shortage had intensified over the past two years, he said, and the workforce was not yet up to ‘‘full speed’’ without the same amount of overseas workers as pre-Covid.
Jeremy Smith, president of Hospitality NZ and owner of the Trinity Group hotels in Wellington, said the Cup was a ‘‘slow burn’’, so he was confident the capital could cope.
But Hamilton didn’t deal with demand from the Mystery Creek Fieldays in June, and exhibitors and punters had to find accommodation in Auckland and Tauranga.
Asked if he was confident,
Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Don Good said frankly: ‘‘Not to the level that I think everyone would like.’’
While Hamilton being part of the event was a ‘‘great coup... it raises questions of how much better we could have coped if we had more hotel beds across the quality spectrum.’’
There was still unsatisfied demand for beds in the city. Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Nicola Greenwell agreed it would be ‘‘challenging’’ for Hamilton to satisfy all World Cup-related demand for beds but reckoned accommodation providers in the wider region were well-placed to help. ‘‘It means we’ll all benefit. The region will be fine and visitors will be shown a good time and hosted well.’’
Waikato Motel Association president Narinder Sagoo said motels being used for emergency and other housing would reduce the ability of his members to meet demand.
‘‘There has been a significant percentage that have been removed from the equation.’’
Others are optimistic hotel chains will be ready, including Sudima Hotel Group chief operating officer Les Morgan.
‘‘The situation is quickly improving. While it’s still not ideal, I’m confident that New Zealand hotels and major motel groups will be in good shape. Hotels have been working hard now to recover, especially over the past six months. And although we still face some labour shortages, largely we were in a pretty good space. We’ve known the World Cup is coming for some time and a lot of the major hotel companies, including ourselves, have spent the past 12 months redeveloping our properties, and have them in really good condition.’’
Morgan said more backpackers were arriving, which could alleviate staff shortages, and a recession could prompt more jobseekers. ‘‘We’d happily welcome them into the hotel chain.’’
Meanwhile, Bus and Coach Association chief executive Ben McFadgen cites a ‘‘dearth’’ of drivers, rental cars and tour and coach buses.
‘‘Are we ready for the tens of thousands of fans about to descend for the Women’s World Cup? In short, no,’’ McFadgen says. ‘‘What can the government do about it? It’s too late. They needed to start doing things much earlier – things like support the tour and coach industry, so we didn’t lose 40% of it during Covid.
‘‘I believe the government is starting to realise the scale of the problem. When you consider the current challenges we have with hospitality, customer service, accommodation… it becomes pretty compelling.
‘‘Already I suspect New Zealand’s reputation is taking a hit due to the poor quality of service and food that you get now, whilst also paying a very high price for the mediocrity.’’
McFadgen can’t see the problems being fixed by July. ‘‘Great progress has been made, but it’s too little too late.’’
MBIE tourism general manager Heather Kirkham acknowledges there are issues. Her department is working on the solutions, which McFadgen described as ‘‘great progress’’.
‘‘Co-hosting the event provides an incredible opportunity to showcase New Zealand’s offering to the world and will pave the way for more international events to be hosted here in future,’’ she says. ‘‘It will provide a muchneeded boost for our tourism and hospitality sectors as they recover from the impacts of Covid-19. We acknowledge the increase in visitors will put extra pressure on tourism and hospitality workers to deliver a world-class experience.’’
Marisa Bidiois says ensuring there’s enough staff to give people a great experience and capitalise on the visitors will be the biggest challenge. The single biggest issue is access to skilled labour, she says.
Poor service would negatively impact on ‘‘visitor experience’’ as businesses need to restrict their
opening hours and capacity to compensate for the lack of staff’’.
Restaurateurs want Immigration NZ to allow them to more easily access overseas workers. ‘‘As the situation stands, we are not confident the industry is going to be able to find the staff it needs to meet the demands of the visiting fans and football delegations,’’ Bidois says. ‘‘There have been some steps taken to manage the situation, but we would like to see more.’’
One sticking point around visa settings is the requirement for the median wage to be paid by accredited employers. Many are not in a position to pay the rate required for roles that are not senior level positions.
Immigration processing times are also major frustration.
‘‘We would like to see a fasttracked visa specifically for workers assisting with the
WWC,’’ Bidois says.
‘‘These could also allow them to work for the same employer during their stay. An adjustment that allows more flexibility in terms of how long people can work for one employer would be helpful.’’
McFadgen agrees with Bidois, pinpointing the driver shortage as echoing the transport woes that surrounded the Rugby World Cup ‘‘debacle’’ in 2011.
‘‘Public transport can’t even
‘Are we ready for the tens of thousands of fans about to descend for the Women’s World Cup? In short, no. What can the government do about it? It’s too late.’ BEN MCFADGEN, BBUS AND COACH ASSOCIATION CHIEF EXECUTIVE
run a full schedule at the moment, how it will cope with an influx of thousands of extra users will be something to behold.’’
The rental vehicle fleet is still recovering from the impact of Covid and supply chain problems affecting car manufacture. Companies are re-fleeting, but still may not be up to capacity by the World Cup. ‘‘So there will be a dearth of rental vehicles. There will be a dearth of tour and coach buses. There will be a dearth of drivers.’’
Kirkham says border, transport, tourism, safety and security, and host city readiness involves the government and sectors working together to identify areas of potential risk or opportunity.
The main focus was working on capacity and readiness – everything from airline capacity to and from New Zealand, transport while visitors and teams are on the ground, to workforce and accommodation availability, and communication to international visitors.
Between 14 March 2022 and 22 December 2022, Immigration New Zealand received more than 44,000 applications for a Working Holiday Scheme visa. More than 41,000 had been approved, 22,000 had arrived.
There had been $2 million of funding for Go with Tourism to help address labour supply issues in the tourism and hospitality sector by holding career expos, secondary-school engagement programmes, promoting careers.
The first phase of the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan had been rolled out, aiming to address workforce issues through training, education and incentivising staff.
New Zealand’s Football Ferns play Norway at Auckland’s Eden Park on July 22, the Philippines in Wellington on July 25, and Switzerland in Dunedin five days later.
World Cup finalists in 2019, USA and Netherlands, meet in pool play in Wellington on July 27, with world champions USA also playing two games in Auckland, on July 22, and August 1.
In August, Eden Park hosts a round of 16 games (on the 5th), a quarterfinal (11th) and a semifinal (15th), while Wellington have a round of 16 (August 5) and a quarterfinal (11th).
At this point, Wellington still has hotel and motel options for even its USA-Netherlands blockbuster.
A silver lining with a potential shortage was it presented an opportunity for people to make some money – by opening up their homes.
Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb country manager for Australia and New Zealand, said Airbnb offered opportunities for communities around match venues to ‘‘be part of history’’.
‘‘New and existing Airbnb hosts will provide support to event organisers by increasing accommodation capacity in cities where the games will be played.’’