Queenstown's Canyon Explorers goes in to hibernation

Canyon Explorers has been leading adventure tours since the 1990s. Photo / Supplied, Queenstown NZ
Canyon Explorers has been leading adventure tours since the 1990s. Photo / Supplied, Queenstown NZ
One of Queenstown's most intrepid operators has decided to pause operations amid an unusually quiet summer in the adventure capital.

Canyon Explorers has stopped business early, saying it would "hibernate" from Monday 15, February. The announcement comes as the Tourism Minister said that that there would be no more support for a "bleeding" international tourism sector, and indications of a "very quiet" shoulder season in Otago.

Adventure Group Limited has been leading tourists on via ferrata and adventure routes under the trading name Canyon Explorers since the 1990s.

Managing director Stefan Crawford said the decision was "a tough but necessary call."

With 95 per cent of their usual guests locked out of the country, Crawford knew it would be a difficult season but had tried to re-gear the business towards domestic adventure travellers.

However, the ongoing uncertainty over Trans-Tasman travel and projected lack of visitors to Queenstown in the coming months has forced the company to call a sudden stop to tours.

Canyon Explorers will not be taking any new guests and will only honour existing bookings through to Easter.

Crawford said his business would be "back next summer" and that guides have all been found work through the "generosity of local businesses".

However, the sudden decision to hit the brakes in the traditional peak season is unnerving.

Crawford said the company had crossed "a line in the sand" last month, when losses were no longer sustainable. Further measures of confidence such as the low room occupancy in town and the decision by airlines to reduce capacity into Queenstown forced the decision to stop operating.

He warned that restarting in 2022 would be the biggest challenge for adventure tourism with many, largely international guides leaving the profession or leaving the country.

"What we'd like to see is more clarity," said Crawford. "But being told not to expect any international tourism for the rest of the year and that a bubble with Australia was still on the way does not help."

This morning Tourism Minister Stuart Nash delivered a disheartening message to operators on the "cold, hard reality" of the pause in international travel.

"If you've got a business that is solely or predominantly reliant on overseas tourists and you haven't been able to pivot from an international base to a domestic base, then I'm afraid you're probably going to have to have some very hard conversations with your bank, your creditors, your directors and your employees," Nash told RNZ's The AM Show.

The Adventure Group was not eligible for Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP) when it was offered last year.

Hibernation may not be an option for many Queenstown businesses who find themselves hit by the lack of visitors. On Monday Queenstown mayor Jim Boult told the Otago Daily Times that many businesses might not survive to enjoy the projected recovery when travel with Australia resumes.

Boult worried that Queenstown operators may not be in a position to offer anything to international visitors when travellers return.

"We won't have the people, we won't have the businesses," he said.

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