Wānaka businesses want certainty to plan ahead

by Kim Bowden - Mar 04, 2022

Wānaka businesspeople are anxious and they need as much certainty as possible to ensure they’re in a position to welcome international visitors when borders open.

That’s the view of Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, who meet with at least 50 members of the business community today at an event organised by Lake Wānaka Tourism.

She was in town with National Party tourism spokesperson Todd McClay.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean (centre) and National Party tourism spokesperson Todd McClay at a meeting of the Wānaka business community, Friday March 4, 2022.

Despite there being light at the end of the tunnel after two years of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Ms Dean says her read on the mood of the room was gloomy.

“It's not a great time for tourism businesses and other related businesses in and around the Upper Clutha, which is to say most businesses outside of construction, though they’ve got their own challenges too.

“People are anxious and there's a high degree of uncertainty about the future.”

They want a date for when the borders are going to open to international tourists, she says.

“Without that date, they can't plan. They need time to get ready.”

Without a date, there’s also no bookings rolling in, she says.

Another looming question for businesspeople in the area: where will they find staff?

“It's pretty accepted around the local business community that a lot of young people will use the opportunity to do what young people love to do and that is travel.

“So, they're going to lose a lot of local young people, who love to work in tourism and hospitality.

“And they are very concerned that there won't be an equal or greater inward flow of people.”

With New Zealand arriving late to the Omicron party, there’s plenty of places for the Government to look to to help it cement a plan, she says.

“Any government worth its salt should be looking around internationally and seeing what is happening in other countries with regards to the Omicron outbreak and at what point past the peak it is feasible to start opening the borders.”

Lake Wānaka Tourism boss Tim Barke: bussinesspeople need to know when they'll be welcoming back overseas visitors.

Lake Wānaka Tourism general manager Tim Barke says there's "cautious optimism" among business owners around the Government's latest plans for reopening the border.

But he agrees with Ms Dean the industry needs a date to work with.

"They're trying to guesstimate when they'll start getting some business back, what staffing levels they'll need, what deferred maintenance they need to do in their business to make sure that they're on track to operate."

Plus, banks need confidence around when revenue will start coming in to help fill the gaps, he says.

"A lot of businesses are under a lot of financial pressure and it's become tougher and tougher to get money.

"Businesses, often perfectly healthy businesses, have been forced into a position where they have needed to try and find extra cash to prop the business up, and they've got no choice but to try and keep air in the lungs until they can start getting some revenue back and they can get back up - firstly, back on their knees and then back onto their feet."

While help from the Government to ease financial strains has been necessary and appreciated, what businesses really want is to get back to being in control of their own livelihoods, he says.


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