'Long, hard road': Franz Josef struggling in wake of virus

Franz Josef township. Photo: ODT files
Franz Josef township. Photo: ODT files
Franz Josef Glacier residents are shouting for help, with 50 job losses confirmed on Wednesday in the suddenly depressed tourist town.

Ngai Tahu Tourism Ltd confirmed plans to mothball Franz Josef Glacier Guides, Franz Josef Hot Pools and Vantage Helicopters. Most jobs will go in July.

The job losses compound those from the closure of Scenic Circle's Te Wao Nui o Tane five-star hotel at Franz, and several cafes.

The local community has responded by setting up a foodbank, anticipating social problems next month when the Government wage subsidies run out.

"There's a lot of noise about Kaikoura, Queenstown ... it seems like Franz is not even mentioned," Westland district councillor Ian Hartshorne said.

"We are 100% a tourism town," Cr Hartshorne said.

"Everyone needs to realise that Franz is really going to struggle. Motels are going to be in real hardship."

There were not enough residents to support all the cafes.

"It's going to be a long, hard road."

Cr Hartshorne said the hope was that domestic tourism would restart first, followed by the trans-Tasman 'bubble' negotiated by the New Zealand and Australian governments.

However, other international tourists were a long way off.

For now, everyone in Franz Josef was losing money, he said.

The Government needed to address the issue as a special case because of the town's total reliance on tourism.

Graham Berry, who spearheads the South Westland Emergency Relief Fund, has knocked on every door in the area on behalf of Civil Defence.

"A few companies are going through restructuring now, about one week later than Ngai Tahu Tourism," Mr Berry said.

The door knocking would be repeated in a few weeks on behalf of Civil Defence.

Farming may be able to pick up some of those left jobless from the collapse of tourism, but that would require leniency around work visas.

New Zealanders would have to be employed first, he said.

Mr Berry is also helping set up a food bank, as currently the nearest help is in Hokitika.

Rather than food parcels, the idea is to make vouchers available which people can redeem locally in South Westland.

The Ngai Tahu Tourism decision comes as Scenic Circle assesses what it can keep open at both Franz Josef and neighbouring Fox Glacier.

Ngai Tahu Holdings chief executive Mike Pohio and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu chairwoman Lisa Tumahai and chief executive Mike Pohio confirmed the tourism business closures in a joint statement late yesterday.

The closures also affects the Shotover Jet experience in Queenstown, as well as Hukafalls Jet at Taupo and Rainbow Springs at Rotorua.

However, the Queenstown-based Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters will remain operational, but at reduced capacity.

"We expect to write off the equivalent of the last five years of Ngai Tahu Tourism profits. Even if the domestic market soon picks up, it will not be enough to sustain our current operations or staffing," they said in a statement.

The move brings a total of 309 job losses across the board at all levels, reducing total staff numbers from 348 to just 39. Most will finish up in June or July.

"As a result of feedback received, this is 14 more kaimahi (staff) than originally proposed.

"We remain firmly committed to the industry and upbeat about the future."

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said his thoughts were with staff members who must now find a new direction -- and also for the Ngai Tahu executive "who will be deeply saddened by having to take this step".

"I am heartened to be informed that Ngai Tahu remain committed to Westland and in particular Franz Josef, so at some time in the future things will look brighter," Mr Smith said.

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