No jab, no walk: Queenstown company takes stand

Guided views for the vaxxed: Views like this, from the Routeburn Track of Lake Mackenzie, will...
Guided views for the vaxxed: Views like this, from the Routeburn Track of Lake Mackenzie, will only be for the fully-vaxxed with Ultimate Hikes this summer. PICTURE: CRYSTAL BRINDLE/DOC
A Queenstown guided walking company is the first major local tourism business to announce it’s insisting clients are fully vaccinated against Covid.

Ultimate Hikes, which runs guided walks of the famous Milford and Routeburn Tracks, has taken the major step following a risk assessment, GM Noel Saxon says.

"We’re a much more risky environment than a normal hospitality situation.

"I suppose we are quite a unique tourist business in putting people together in close  quarters for a long period of time."

Saxon says when operating in a remote environment, "the last thing we need or could  handle really is having Covid rife out there".

The potential risk to guides and other clients from unvaccinated people getting Covid, with their higher chance of serious illness or death, was too much, he adds.

"We found everyone was in a high-risk position, and the best way of dealing with that was
making sure everyone was vaccinated."

Saxon says customer feedback — the policy was only announced last week — has shown "overwhelming support".

Tiny backlash expected from new policy

"We have had a few people that aren’t happy and have cancelled, we expected to get a few of those."

He’s anticipating those will number less than 2% of would-be clients.

Ultimate Hikes is owned by the family of prominent local business man Sir John Davies, whose other tourism businesses include resort skifields Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.

Asked about Ultimate Hikes’ policy, David Butt, local ops manager for Department of Conservation (DoC), which books unguided walkers on the Milford and Routeburn, says "all DoC hut rangers will be vaccinated for the coming season".

DoC will continue to follow Ministry of Health guidelines, he says, while it also supports the vaccine roll-out.

In huts, walkers are asked to keep 2m from others, or wear face coverings.

‘It’s a logical step’

Destination Queenstown CEO Paul Abbot says for the type of business Ultimate Hikes is, insisting on vaxxed-only clients "would seem to be a logical step forward … because you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere".

"The last thing you want is something which you could have controlled going wrong, I  guess."

Abbot’s not aware of other local tourism companies adopting the policy, but notes Air New Zealand, from February, will only take vaccinated passengers on international flights, while organisers of major events are taking the same stance.

"I guess to be fair it’s the way the whole thing is shifting, now, from not just a staffing point of view but from a spectator or an attendee point of view, just to make sure everybody’s safe."

Asked for his view, The Rees Hotel GM Mark Rose notes at the moment there’s no way to prove whether someone’s vaxxed or not.

"As soon as we have a system up and running where we can prove staff and guests are vaccinated, we’ll be able to make those sorts of calls."

The government’s expected to roll out its ‘vaccination passport’ from next month.

Rose says feedback he’s received so far from inbound operators and wholesalers he’s contacted is "it’s looking like the expectation’s going to be that we have vaccinated staff".

"And if our staff are vaccinated, I guess the run-on from that is … the expectation all our guests are vaccinated as well."

scoop@scene.co.nz

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