Fox Glacier businesses betting on holidays

Sean Langton and his wife bought the Fox Glacier General Store earlier this year.
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Sean Langton and his wife bought the Fox Glacier General Store earlier this year. PHOTOS: RNZ/TESS BRUNTON
On the main street of Fox Glacier village the sound of a lone mower has replaced the campervans and cars, as businesses hold out hope for a school holiday boost after a long and difficult winter.

Several businesses have already closed in the township and others are considering whether to hibernate or close, especially after the latest Alert Level 4 lockdown.

While most businesses were battening down the hatches, a few in Fox Glacier took the plunge and opened in the midst of the pandemic.

Sean Langton and his wife moved to the town earlier this year and bought the Fox Glacier General Store with support from his mother.

"I used to work in the freezing works up in Taranaki and my body was just past working so we wanted to be business owners," Mr Langton said.

"We sold everything we had and bought this place.

"The pandemic was bad but we just saw... how good the town had previously been pre-Covid-19 and we were just like ‘let's just take a risk and jump into it’."

Erica McClintock opened her restaurant Betsey Jane about a year ago and plans to try to wait out...
Erica McClintock opened her restaurant Betsey Jane about a year ago and plans to try to wait out the drop off in custom due to Covid-19.
It had been difficult to order some produce including flour during Level 4.

"It's a struggle. Every night you go home and you're like ‘what are we going to order tomorrow?’ We don't have the budget to go on against other towns and stuff so if people want to come here, we've got to say ‘what are we ordering?’ Are they going to eat bananas this week or are they going to eat apples... what are they going to buy?"

Without support from the community, he was not sure if they would have stuck around.

"My mum had to move down to Invercargill to get a farming job and me and Becka aren't paying ourselves. We just live off our savings so we can't really afford to pay ourselves or pay my mum.

"We're not really making a profit."

While it had been tough, they were hoping to hold out until international visitors could return, he said.

Erica McClintock opened her restaurant Betsey Jane about a year ago.

She wanted to open for lunch, but there were not enough people passing through yet, she said.

Contractors who had been fixing roads and installing fibre had been welcome business for the town, she said.

"That's been really great. That can make a huge difference on a night just having maybe six or eight of them come in and they're normally here during the week."

She was planning to hire more staff for summer, but expected it would be a challenge to find them after missing out on the usual visa workers and young locals who had since moved away.

But all in all, she was glad to be welcoming customers through her doors, especially after good support from locals.

"I had originally thought about not opening and delaying the opening for maybe six months or so, which I'm pleased we didn't do because nothing’s changed in the year, really.

"We'll just keep ticking along and obviously try to wait it out."

Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell said they would usually be looking at daily trips with up to 150 people at this time of the year.

Instead they were only getting a maximum of 10 customers a day, which had made them dependent on government support.

"Without STAPP and Jobs for Nature, I would say the business would either be in hibernation or closed."

Fox Glacier Guiding launched Experience Fox Glacier offering horse trekking and e-bike hire in late 2019.

Mr Jewell was feeling more optimistic about the upcoming school holidays and summertime visitors, and was expecting good bookings, he said.

But as the co-chair of the Glacier Country Tourism Group, he said many businesses were facing a much bleaker picture.

"Businesses that have got through to this point and done really well to survive to this point are now starting to consider their options of ‘do we hibernate or do we close?’.

"As cash reserves are basically pretty depleted and businesses are finding it really, really tough, there's not much on the horizon in terms of what does this summer look like."

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