Tourism businesses biding their time

Central Otago’s tourism sector remains largely in lockdown due to Covid-19, but operators believe they can bear the brunt of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Tourism Central Otago figures stated at Level 4 it was estimated 55% of the district’s workforce was able to work, as essential services or from home, Level 3 meant a further 14% could get back on the job.

For tourism operators being able to do business again in a limited capacity did not always translate to clientele and many spoken to by the Otago Daily Times were choosing to hold off.

In Alexandra, Altitude Adventures owner Phil Oliver, whose company specialises in rail trail and MTB tours in Central Otago, said Level 3 made no difference to his business, as bookings typically ended in the first week of May.

"I’m shut down anyway."

He had had to wear a loss of revenue during lockdown, but his focus now was on pre-bookings for when the season began again in September. So far, they were not happening because "people are sitting on their hands".

Shebikeshebikes operates depots in Clyde, Omakau and Middlemarch for customers wishing to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail, Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails.

A spokeswoman said the company was offering only servicing of bikes in Omakau at this time.

At Crows Nest Accommodation, in Oturehua, owner Bill May said the virus struck at the peak of tourism season and had possibly cost him about $12,000.

He could accommodate 20 people but business from the Central Otago Rail Trail was at a standstill.

His overheads were low and he could weather losses.

"I can’t see anything happening until Christmas."

Taking a similar approach was Meredith Kerrisk, of Dunstan House, in Clyde.

Mrs Kerrisk said she and her husband had talked about opening under Level 3 but opted not to.

"It was harrowing trying to find out any information. Food and accommodation is very different to opening an engineering business."

Clyde was usually a bustling tourist hub, but the people simply were not there, she said.

Two years after taking the business on, this was the year they should have seen a return on their investment, she said.

"February, March, and April are our busiest months. My husband is anxious but I like to think ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’. It might be another year or 18 months."

At Marj’s Place, in Alexandra, which offers accommodation geared to the budget-conscious tourist market, owner Murray Blyth said business was "absolutely flat".

"We’ve got to prop it up until we get to Level 1, and until then the bookings just aren’t there."

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