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Fox Glacier’s Ivory Towers Backpackers Lodge. Image: Google Maps
Fox Glacier’s Ivory Towers Backpackers Lodge. Image: Google Maps
There are fears more businesses will go under in Glacier Country, as operators come to terms with another New Zealand-Australia travel suspension and their second winter under the shadow of Covid-19.

Recent figures published by Development West Coast estimate the two-month suspension of travel will cost the West Coast economy $700,000

Fox Glacier’s Ivory Towers Backpackers Lodge owner-operator Ann Scott offers 26 rooms with a potential of 85 beds.

‘‘My winter occupancy rate two years ago was 30%. Now we would be lucky to make 1%.

‘‘It’s pretty dire. I’m looking at not even $2000 revenue for the month. That’s not enough to pay the bills,’’ she said.

Having marked her 65th birthday last year, Mrs Scott said, ‘‘I never thought I’d be appreciative of a birthday to get income’’.

‘‘We’ve got DWC funding as well but we’re just putting ourselves in debt to stay afloat. If and when we get some revenue, I’ll still have five years of paying it back.

‘‘We could be going through this until October next year. It just keeps stringing on and stringing on. We can’t sustain it.

‘‘It’s waking up and breathing and thinking ‘OK, here we are today, what can we distract ourselves with?’ I can go for a walk, breathe, reduce the anxiety.

"My knitting needles haven’t stopped, I volunteer locally, I’m being creative, which helps.

‘‘There’s times I think ‘oh my God, I’m going to start accruing debt at this stage of my life’.’’

Asked if she would sell, Mrs Scott replied, ‘‘who’s going to buy it?’’.

‘‘When the transtasman bubble was formed people were saying ‘that’s so fantastic’, but I said that it won’t affect us that much — the Australian market is Wanaka and Queenstown for a ski, then head home.

‘‘They [Australian visitors] have been around but they were never going to be the saviour.’’
In Franz Josef, Heliservices manager Quentin Arnold, said the next few months would be critical.

‘‘All industries have downtime but this has been severe.’’

He said it had been 50-50 Australians and New Zealanders visiting recently, and the business was starting to see some good effects from the travel bubble.

‘‘We’re all treading water at the moment but the longer we have to hold on for the worse it gets. We’re in survival mode. Luckily, for us, we have commercial helicopter jobs to fall back on.

‘‘We have been working with other businesses, offering combined packages, but I’ve still had to say to people I can’t make itany cheaper, that’s as far as I can go.’’

Mr Arnold said survival had meant scaling back staff.

Pre-Covid, the business had 40 staff. Now it was only 10, and it had gone from 10 choppers to four.

‘‘The Kiwi tourists have and are continuing to do a great job, but there’s nothing you can do about this situation.

‘‘Realistically it’s at least four years before we can bounce back properly. Government support has definitely assisted and is the reason most businesses are still here.

‘‘Now it’s turning into two years, three years quite quickly. . . I’m confident Aussie can help if they can come back. If it can get sorted, fingers crossed for November and December.’’

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith was stark in his appraisal of the situation.

‘‘No-one has an answer. We’re playing with a moving target and there’s going to be tragic consequences for some businesses,’’ he said.

- By Meg Fulford 

 

Comments

I really don't want to downplay in any way what some operators and their families are facing in terms of their financial security and futures. We can sometimes get caught up in the drive of our lives, the pressures that propel us from one day to the next, so much so, that we often forget about the lessons of yesterday. Running a business - any business - is mostly pretty hard work, mostly unpredictable and often personally rewarding, not always in a financial way.

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