Queenstown Lakes tourism operators are worried they may never see hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to them for trips taken before the Covid-19 lockdown after an Australian booking agency went into debt hibernation.
The firm, Adventium Technology Group, operates Website Travel, a platform through which hundreds of tourists who have visited the Lakes District in the past few months have booked charter flights, excursion tours, and other holiday activities.
In normal times, the firm would take a commission before passing the remainder to the provider.
However, with Adventium’s decision to take advantage of the Australian Government-backed "debt hibernation scheme", local tourism operators have been left unable to meet their current expenses and wondering whether they will ever see the income from services they had already provided.
One tourism operator, who asked not to be named, was hoping for the best but had mentally already written off the five-figure sum his firm was owed.
"There are a lot of businesses involved. We are far from the only ones ... I would say it would be pretty much every tourism operator in Queenstown."
Adventium emailed all tourism operators last week to say it would not be making payments to them at this time, and that it needed time to raise $A12million ($NZ12.53million) in new capital to ‘‘repair the balance sheet to ensure that all obligations are met".
The email said it intended to spend April raising new capital and would ensure all outstanding payments were made in early May.
"Website Travel has operated for over 15 years and whilst there have been some ups and downs for the business over this period, there has been nothing of the magnitude of Covid-19 crisis," Adventium’s email said.
The tourism operator said the Web Travel system was used by many of Queenstown’s booking agencies, which obliged firms to use the company and accept its terms.
"They are the biggest game in town. You are either with them or you’re not, and you are beholden to their way of doing things.
"Now they’ve basically stopped paying out ... things are tough already, and this is scary for small operators."
Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker said he had been contacted by several tourism operators who had depended on their payments from Adventium and were now facing hardship as a result of the firm’s travails.
"This is a heavy blow for tourist companies who have large variable costs such as helicopter and charter plane companies, who have incurred tens of thousands of costs to perform these services," Mr Walker said.
He knew of one business which was owed about $40,000, the equivalent of a month’s payroll, and said he had raised the matter with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Adventium managing director Andrew Cox said he had no comment to make other than what was in the firm’s statement.
"I don’t want to say anything other than that we are focused on the capital raising exercise that we are undertaking."