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A hoped-for influx of Aucklanders has failed to materialise in the resort, denying businesses a badly needed dose of revenue.
Businesses propped up by wage subsidies lost their lifeline early this month, and the arrival of the Omicron Covid-19 variant at the border has prompted the Government to push out changes to the country’s border rules until the end of February.
Frontrunner owner Paul Garvie said Christmas trading at his Queenstown stores had been down on the same time last year, and he expected "very difficult times" and more business failures in the next six months.
He hoped the Government would stick to its current schedule for opening the borders, so that Australians could come over for the ski season.
However, given the Government’s cautious approach and the reactions of other countries to Omicron outbreaks, he feared another nationwide lockdown was possible.
Longtime central Queenstown retailer Miles Wilson said the release of Aucklanders from lockdown a fortnight ago had not given trading much of a boost.
Many resort businesses had already given up on summer, and they were nervously looking to winter as the "next point of rescue", Mr Wilson said.
The best-case scenario was for Australians to be allowed into the country by May, but the emergence of Omicron put that in doubt.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa regional chairwoman for the Queenstown Lakes hotel sector Catherine Bone said making forecasts was difficult, but many large events scheduled for the next few months, including the Queenstown Marathon, Motatapu, Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert and the New Zealand Open, would generate business so long as they were not postponed or cancelled.
Ms Bone, who is general manager of Edgewater Lake Wanaka, said there was optimism in the sector the border with Australia would reopen in time for next year’s ski season, "with no long quarantine stays as that will certainly impact our numbers by deterring visitors".
The only certainty for the sector next year was that it would struggle to "make the revenues necessary to sustain our businesses", she said.