Border plan 'a devastating blow’

New Zealanders are being punished for having high vaccination rates, and low rates of community transmission, a Queenstown hospitality manager says.

Hospitality New Zealand Queenstown regional manager Darelle Jenkins said yesterday’s border reopening announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, revealing a five-step plan — to span, at this stage, the next eight months — delivered an "absolutely devastating blow" for those in the sector.

Ms Jenkins’ frustrations were shared by others in Queenstown, concerned the plan would not alleviate staffing issues and forcing tourists to self-isolate would result in few coming.

Ms Jenkins said based on yesterday’s announcement, it looked likely the industry’s staffing shortage — at critical levels — would not be resolved until at least the end of this year.

While in other countries, where Omicron was widespread, there were fewer restrictions, "we’re getting punished for being vaccinated and having really low rates of community transmission," she said.

Ms Jenkins said the organisation’s members were "just hanging in there" and many were fearful their businesses would not even survive until the end of this summer.

KJet in action on Lake Wakatipu. Photo: Craig Baxter
KJet in action on Lake Wakatipu. Photo: Craig Baxter
The Red setting, in play for less than a fortnight, was even worse for hospitality businesses than an Alert Level 4 lockdown, she said, because there was no Government support, and custom had dropped even further because people were fearful of becoming close contacts and needing to self-isolate.

The hospitality issue was two-fold — along with a lack of customers, which was biting in to every bottom line, Ms Jenkins believed you would be hard-pressed to find a hospitality venue in Queenstown with no "staff wanted" sign.

"People say, ‘Stop relying on migrants’.

"There’s a massive gap between the Kiwis that can work and the work that needs to be done, and that needs to be filled, and now it’s not going to be filled until, probably, 2023 with [yesterday] morning’s announcement, " Ms Jenkins said.

KJet owner Shaun Kelly, of Queenstown, says the Government’s announcement yesterday has ignored...
KJet owner Shaun Kelly, of Queenstown, says the Government’s announcement yesterday has ignored the hard-hit tourism sector.
KJet owner Shaun Kelly said yesterday’s announcement confirmed the Government was "not thinking of tourism", and described its attitude as disappointing.

"[Tourism] pre-Covid was New Zealand’s biggest revenue earner, bringing in about $42billion.

"It’s very disappointing they’re not prioritising that.

"They’re not considering the businesses that have been destroyed through these lockdowns ... when every other country is opening up."

Alpine Motel owner Derek Johnson, of Wanaka, said a critical shortage of cleaning staff, because of a lack of holiday visa workers, was preventing his business selling room spaces.

Ms Ardern said the long-awaited return of Australian tourists would happen "no later than July", when New Zealand would open to business travellers and those on the new accredited employer work visa.

At this stage, all would be required to complete seven days’ self-isolation.

Queenstown Airport chief executive Glen Sowry said as long as that requirement was in play, "Queenstown will remain closed for business to any international tourism", including Australians.

Transtasman flights would only return to Queenstown Airport when the self-isolation requirement for visitors was removed.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson said also questioned the need for self-isolation if people could provide a negative Covid-19 test.

"That just seems illogical when Covid is endemic in both communities, New Zealand and Australia."

The announcement did not give NZSki any surety it would have an easier time staffing its skifields this winter.

It gave him "a glimmer of home that the Government is listening".

Fiordland Business Association board member and Wings and Water chief executive Kylie Krippner said people felt like they were stuck in a groundhog day of ongoing uncertainty.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes said she was "cautiously optimistic" by winter self-isolation would be removed, and by summer visitors from the northern hemisphere would arrive.

Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago vice-president and general manager of The Gate complex in Cromwell, Glen Christiansen said the industry welcomed the plan to open up.

Reopening the border to working holiday visa holders meant "there’s potentially staff coming in, but there’s still a lot of what-ifs".

"We’re just glad the journey has started."