Wānaka puts pressure on to update Easter trading laws

by Lauren Pattemore - Apr 02, 2024

It's a debate that circulates every Easter, but this year a successful Warbirds over Wānaka has added further fuel to the annual discussion.

After a six-year hiatus, the Wānaka airshow played host to an audience almost four times the size of the Upper Clutha's resident population over the long holiday weekend. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council deputy mayor Quentin Smith says there needs to be a review of the rules to enable businesses to benefit from the "exploded populations over Easter", as well as to provide for the basic needs of the area's visitors.

"Upper Clutha has a population of 18,000; Warbirds saw over 70,000 people through the gates," Mr Smith says.

"Council are supportive of change and have actively advocated with (former Waitaki MP) Jacqui Dean over many years. She failed to address the issue over 17 years in parliament, but maybe it's an issue for fresh blood Miles Anderson to take forward."

Waitaki MP Miles Anderson agrees the laws should change, and says it is something he will lobby for.

Ten of thousands came out to watch Warbirds over Wānaka, but hospitality, retail and tourism trade was restricted.

It echoes the sentiment from Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, who told media this morning he was personally supportive of a change, however, it's not a priority for the government this quarter.

Mr Anderson says it's "odd" as well as unfair that Queenstown can be open as normal, but the restrictive trading laws still apply for Wānaka, when it's a "prime time" for businesses to be operating.

Currently, supermarkets apart from small grocery stores can't trade on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, however, both of Wānaka's New World supermarkets decided to ignore the rules and open this year, as they have done other years.

Retail shops can't open unless they sell souvenirs and takeaways, and cafes and bars can only sell cooked food ready to be served immediately.

Alcohol can't be purchased on its own, and can only be sold with a meal.

Wānaka Chamber of Commerce chief executive Glenn Peat has praised the "fantastic" work that went into organising this year's airshow, saying he did not want discontent about Easter trading to cast the long weekend locally in any negative light.

The area successfully hosted tens of thousands of people, with early estimates suggesting the event injected $40 million into the local economy.

"It's important and positive," he says. "They (organisers) did an awesome job...full credit to them for a great event."

However, Mr Peat has plans to meet with Mr Anderson to discuss Easter trading, although he is quick to point out his organisation has no official position on the issue yet.

He says views are "varied" amongst members, but he agrees it's time for the discussion to be had.

"I fully support a review of the laws to make it more consistent and easy to understand...But, also, potentially, if it goes that way, to open up the opportunity for retailers to operate. I mean, they can still operate, it's just whether or not they would like to be fined."

He's aware that before his involvement with the chamber, it lobbied the QLDC for a review of the rules, and, if members push for it, he suggests the chamber may again lobby - this time, central government - for change.

Water Bar duty manager Laura Staples says they were "absolutely slammed" over the weekend, and she was proud of how her staff managed.

She's been working there for seven years and says their Easter operation has become a "fine-tuned" machine but working around the trading laws adds extra costs, including employing an extra person to be stationed at the front door and explaining the trading laws.

Water Bar was slammed over the Easter weekend, but couldn't maximise sales because of trading laws.

"Just looking at the payroll, it's not a cheap weekend to be paying our staff...you can't maximise profits," Ms Staples says. 

She says one of the "biggest frustrations" is the difference in rules across Queenstown and Wānaka because it's confusing to communicate with their patrons.

Ms Staples is calling for a change before next year, particularly because another crowd-drawing event, Wheels at Wānaka, has announced it will return for Easter 2025.

"It's busy, we've had an injection of people for Warbirds, and then Wheels next year over the Easter weekend. Queenstown is part of the same council, so how is it not the same rules?," Ms Staples says.

"People are wanting to go and spend a load of money in town and they can't; it's really damaging for businesses."

Meanwhile ACT MP Cameron Luxton has lodged a private member's bill to relieve the restrictions on trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

In a statement to media before Easter he said, "I'm really hoping the bill can be drawn and progressed through the House so New Zealanders can enjoy easter the way they want to in 2025".

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