Queenstown business leader questions elimination, calls for 'real way forward'

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce interim boss Craig Douglas says the Government has been dismissive of the resort town and has questioned the cost of its "relentless" drive for Covid-19 elimination.

OPINION: In light of recent criticism of the government’s support for the tourism industry, and Queenstown businesses in particular, and the frustration of alert level restrictions, I have given more thought to what we should expect from our government leaders.

I’ve had correspondence with Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, and Kelvin Davis, Minister of Tourism, in my capacity as Queenstown Chamber of Commerce interim general manager about support for Queenstown.

Craig Douglas is the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce interim general manager
Craig Douglas is the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce interim general manager

 

Firstly, I thanked them for what they had done to date, particularly the highly effective wage subsidy.

Then I pointed out that the other forms of assistance being offered, while good for a few, were missing the mark for most businesses reliant on visitors.

The response from Wellington?

A laundry list of all the support initiatives that I had already acknowledged, and a tone suggesting that was plenty.

Mind you, Queenstown should be used to this attitude from Wellington — polite dismissiveness.

We don’t usually appear on the Wellington radar – unless, of course, you are counting foreign income and GST takings.

Never in a generation have we been subject to so much instruction from government as to our behaviours.

I get that these are unpr3*#&@!ted (please don’t use that word any more) times, but restricting people’s rights comes with a heightened responsibility to tell us what’s going on.

My gripe is there is no plan but the elimination plan.

What is elimination?

When do we know it has been achieved?

Can we expect to eliminate the virus on an ongoing basis while people move across the border every day?

What level of outbreak triggers what level of response?

What happens if there is no vaccine – or is it still years away?

I appreciate that ‘seat-of-the-pants’ decisions were required in March (remember, there is no playbook), but it is now nearly six months later.

I’m not questioning the initial response, but have we been told any more about how to deal with the virus than we were told at the start?

Other than masks all of a sudden becoming a good idea, I suggest no.

It strikes me that the health experts, and only the health experts, are calling the shots.

The economic experts get to measure the financial pain while Mr Robertson stacks debt upon debt while trying to dampen down the hot spots of economic disaster.

Handouts can’t be the long-term answer.

The relentless drive for elimination of the virus will only result in us living in varying levels of restriction as returning New Zealanders provide a path for community outbreak at any time.

There is no such thing as a perfect isolation process, as has been clearly demonstrated.

After almost six months there should be a playbook for the nation’s response and, equally importantly, we should know what’s in it.

We should not still be ruled by 1pm press conferences delivering the next set of instructions or restrictions.

We have been warned that the elimination plan will likely see us move up and down alert levels and suffer the associated restrictions.

The economic cost will compound each time we move.

The playbook should also have a plan B.

What is the plan if we have to live with Covid-19 in the community?

The government’s borrowed finances can only go so far to prop up the economy, especially in the face of an unknown timeframe for a vaccine or medication.

Queenstown’s visitor economy will recover.

We were beginning to see what a domestic-only market might be able to deliver, but the potential was cut off at the knees with a second Alert Level 3 lockdown in Auckland.

But we can’t fight our way out of this alone, we are now so reliant on the domestic travel market and Auckland, in particular, that we have become almost entirely dependent on the government’s Covid-19 response.

Quite simply, government should be giving us more.

More credit for being able to understand a plan, more transparency about a plan, and more consideration for a real way forward to dealing with Covid-19.

Craig Douglas is the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce’s interim general manager

Comments

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Business leaders should just stick to business and let the health experts guide the way on health matters. I don't see or hear the health sector questioning business ethics.

How selfish can you get. This smacks of Trump of the ignorance that ignores the seriousness of a virus that does not discriminate. As a rate payer of QDLC I am disgusted and disappointed in the selfishness of the business community. You ask us to support you while you show no regard for the safety of the community. Shame on you.

What does Trump have to do with it? Under the US system of democracy, federalism delegates the authority for closures to state governors. They closed states, not Trump. He doesn't have the power or authority. Your comment is nonsense! The US economy is moving along while New Zealand is headed for a major recession or a depression. What did the total shutdown do for us? We delayed the inevitable.

I am always amused by the naiveite of the “experts” on economic issues like this. How can you possibly have a Plan B in an agrarian country like New Zealand where 80% of the economy is based upon tourism? There is no Plan B! New Zealand made a conscious decision to focus the bulk of its economic efforts on tourism and industries that support tourism. Consequently, it produces a nominal amount of consumer goods for domestic consumption. Its primary exports are lamb, beef and dairy. Pre COVID, this combination was able to sustain the economy. The demise of international tourism has destroyed the economies for tourist locations like Queenstown. There is no infrastructure to convert, redirect or restructure the economic base. The only option for the government is to provide subsidies or handouts. None of the “experts” have offered any proposals to shift the economic focus away from tourism. Their solution is to remain in a perpetual holding pattern until international tourism resumes. Until somebody in the government decides to shift the focus of the economic base in New Zealand, this is the best it gets. There is no Plan B. When the wadge subsidy ends things are going to get bad.

80% of the economy based on tourism? Where is the evidence to support this assertion? I certainly don't believe you.

Well, if you go to the tourism New Zealand website it details the following information: International tourism expenditure 20.4%, Tourism generated a direct contribution to gross domestic product 5.8%, foreign exchange earnings 21%, industries supporting tourism 5.0%, salaries for people directly employed in tourism 8.4%, goods and services tax (GST) revenue 16.4%. In the notes, it annotates " all industries as a total percentage of the economy". That's 77%. I'd say it's not quite 80% but pretty close. Got any other questions?

In 2019, we had 3.8 million tourists. That amounts to about 77% of our population coming here to visit. Each and every one of those tourist flew here, slept here, ate here, traveled around the country, visited all the typical tourist traps, purchased souvenirs, and did pretty much everything else we did in addition to those touristy things; that's lots of money into the economy. If you look at how their money flowed into our economy and add up all the ancillary places where that money flowed, 80% would seem to be a reasonable amount. I don't have any problems with that figure. I agree with the comment that we've placed too much emphasis on tourism as a means to make the economy work. We need to become more self-sufficient and go back to the days where we were able to survive on what we made domestically for our consumption. COVID should have been a wake-up call for us. What are we doing? Opening the borders to import workers so we can try and reconstruct the tourism industry. I personally hate Queenstown. Too crowded, too expensive and greedy bussinesses. I wouldnt waste my money visiting. When was the last time you saw a business there extended a discount to a Kiwi?

Australia's suppression strategy is a health and economic disaster. The UK and Sweden's Herd Immunity Strategy is murder and economic suicide. The USA's strategic strategy of random acts of stupidity is the worst in the world.
Tourism is unsustainable, it did not prepare for a pandemic, even when everyone knew it was inevitable. Tourism played a huge role in the spread of this virus around the world, and instead of telling us how they will compensated the country for the damage they have caused, they just want people to die so that they can make a quick buck. Most tourism jobs are filled by foreign workers, most tourism profits go overseas. When the costs are taken into account would New Zealand lose anything with the end of mass international tourism, or would it save money and give the country back to Kiwis?
Stop pretending all the money tourists spends is profitable for New Zealanders. Any business looks good if you don't factor in the costs.

Mate, you need to take an economics course. New Zealand doesn't make anything. We have limited national resources. Water is an issue for the North Island. We are an import nation. The economy is based upon nothing but handouts from the government. The government is the problem, not the solution. We are about to have negative interest rates forced upon us. Once the wage subsidies are over we are screwed as a nation. You cant build a countries economy on tourism. That's what we've done. Your right, the money tourist spend here isn't profitable for New Zealand. BUT, it has become a drug EVERYBODY has become accustomed to taking. The pandemic was the wake up call to break the dependence. We havent done that. We are screwed!

Another person with Trump derangement syndrome. The governor's are responsible for COVID response not Trump. Trump closed the borders and each state became responsible for responding to the COVID threat. Many refusing assistance from the federal government as a political statement. Another Kiwi who doesn't understand a constitutional republic based on federalism! You failed to mention NZ response, luck! An island nation in the middle of nowhere just needs to shut the borders to mitigate the threat. We did that yet still face the threat of an outbreak, why? Government incompetence? You can't compare our response to any other country except other island nations. And when you do, we had a very marginal response. Allowing aucklanders to travel to Queenstown was a huge mistake. Today is day 12 since they were allowed to travel. How many COVID cases will start popping up in Queenstown and the South island now that the 2 week incubation period has passed? Let's see just how rational and sane our COVID response actually is?

Interesting how Kiwis measure the success of our COVID efforts by the perceived failures of other countries efforts like the United States. Just for comparison, the US must secure 328 ports of entries compared with 13 for New Zealand. It’s a lot easier to shut the border when you only have 13 ports of entries to close as we do here in NZ. New Zealand being an island nation has no land borders. The US has a 3,987-mile land border with Canada and 1,933-mile border with Mexico. That’s 5,525 miles of border to protect and prevent potential COVID carriers from crossing. Add to that another 12,383 miles of coastline. This compared to New Zealand which has only 9,300 miles of coastline to patrol and no real threat. The United States has an estimated 11 million to 22 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows compared to 13,895 here in New Zealand. The US has an illegal population that is somewhere between 2 – 4 times the size of the NZ population as a whole and they wont be tested or treated. There is no comparison between the US & NZ as far as response. If we had similar issues as the US we would have had similar results. We’ve been lucky...nothing more...nothing less.

You will never please business people.Their only thoughts are huge profits.While tourism made hundreds of millions they still exploited workers on crap wages,all for their greedy gains.They looked down on beneficiaries yet took any covid money they could get from the government who they bag all the time.A bunch of hypocrites.

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