International arrivals talk about how inconvenient and confusing the mandatory self-isolation is for them.
Tens of thousands of jobs are on the line as travel cancellations mount and tourism businesses anxiously await details of Government assistance.
Efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus Covid-19 require all incoming overseas passengers to self isolate for 14 days and all cruise ship visits have been halted.
The tourism industry directly and indirectly employs almost 400,000 people or just over 14 per cent of the work force, and Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said we could see large scale job losses.
“The severity of this is something we have never seen before, it’s far more severe than the global financial crisis (GFC) and there were hundreds of tourism businesses that went under during the GFC … so that could happen again.
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“We’re talking tens of thousands of jobs at risk and the Government’s business support package will be about mitigating those job losses as much as possible by keeping people employed.”
The Tourism Export Council was expecting extended travel restrictions, and while it supported the current measures on public health grounds, chair Anna Black said the blanket ban was still a shock and businesses were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the support package being announced on Tuesday.
“Those decisions cannot come quickly enough.
“Cashflow is tight and businesses were holding off redundancies, in case there was a prospect of getting an uplift in visitors over the next six weeks. That opportunity is now gone.”
Black said most long-haul visitors came here for 13 to 21 days and short haul trans-Tasman travellers came for between two and five days, so no one with bookings before the end of March would embark on a trip knowing they faced 14 days in isolation.
There was now a very real chance a number of inbound tour, accommodation, visitor attraction and transport operators may have to close their doors.
“We hope the government’s support package will be substantive enough to help businesses through at least the upcoming six months, and until the Covid-19 event settles around the world and normal visitation patterns resume in spring and summer.”
The current situaiton is a huge turn around for an industry which only last year was talking off recruiting 40,000 new workers to address acute labour shortages and cater for the 5.1 million visitors forecast to arrive by 2024.
Lynette Buurman, a partner in Kaikoura’s Dolphin Encounter, has been fielding “a massive wave of cancellations” and is already looking at how many of the 20 seasonal workers out of a workforce of 55 they can keep on as bookings continue to plummet.
She said that up until now passenger numbers had been OK because the business did not depend heavily on the Asian market, but 80 per cent of her customers were international visitors so the reduction in inbound and outbound flights would have a dramatic impact.
Dolphin Encounter was among Kaikoura businesses to get a wage subsidy of $ 500 per full time worker per week after the 2016 earthquakes and Buurman said getting that again would help.
The company was also looking at putting together deals to appeal to the local domestic tourism market.
Paul Brideson owns the Whistling Frog cafe and camping ground in the Catlins where cancellations for April were ramping up.
“We’ve had 11 in just the last 24 hours.”
“Everyone is saying they want their money back, it’s thousands and thousands of dollars going out the door.
“People are saying they want a full refund and we’re saying this is really tough for us,” said Brideson.