Northland businesses, tourism operators facing acute crisis; desperate for visitors

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Published on : Monday, February 7, 2022

Businesses and tourism operators in Northland are crying out for visitors as they brace for a difficult winter.Grant Harnish runs Salt Air, a tourism company offering scenic flights of the region via helicopter and plane.

He said during an interview that he’s been in business for 30 years, but has never seen Paihia so quiet.The summer season had only been two weeks, Harnish said.

“People are terrified as to what this is going to look like in six months’ time for our town,” he said.
“In terms of jobs, is it going to be tumbleweed rolling down the main street? We’ve come out of an incredibly difficult winter last year and we rolled into a very, very short summer, rolling potentially into one of the worst winters of the last two years since this whole thing started.

“We need people to come and visit the north, just to give some confidence in the operators here to hang on that little bit longer until things start to change. It’s incredibly important that people come up and see us.”

Harnish said many businesses and operators were tossing up whether or not to call it quits in the wake of the country’s new border reopening dates.

In the five-step plan announced on Thursday, the border is pegged to fully reopen to visitors from anywhere around the world in October.

It is unclear at this stage if any form of self-isolation will be required by then. It is required in step one and two, which begin at 11.59pm on February 27 and March 13 respectively.

Harnish said businesses and operators not just in the north, but around the country, needed to know the ins and outs of step five now.

“As tourism operators we would need to know that in October — if that’s the set date the Government’s decided to open the borders to the world — that people can come in isolation free or if they can’t, because that will help us make the decision. And also the airlines need to know as well … That’s what we need, John, some certainty.

“This is not about Grant Harnish or Salt Air. This is what the rest of Paihia, Northland, and the rest of the country’s going to look like in nine, ten months’ time if nobody knows what’s going on. “This is going to be the year that’s going to count, this is going to be much, much tougher in my personal opinion than what we’ve had so far.”
Others made similar calls in the wake of Thursday’s announcement.

NZ Airports CEO Kevin Ward said ongoing isolation to travel to New Zealand made no sense.
“We are really pleased for Kiwis who have been stuck overseas and want to return home, however the continuing requirement for self-isolation means New Zealand will remain essentially off the map for international travellers and many airlines. People do not want to fly to New Zealand if they have to spend their first week sitting in a hotel.”
Justin Tighe-Umbers of the Board of Airlines Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ) said: “Leisure and business travellers will not come if they have to self-isolate for days – it’s a market killer.”

BusinessNZ CEO Kirk Hope said businesses wanted more detail around plans for reopening.
Tourism operators needed a firm date for the end of isolation, he said.

“It’s incredibly tiring not knowing what is going to happen next week or next month or even tomorrow and that’s the bit we need. We need some certainty, we need some decisions made,” Harnish said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins later said the Government could not give guarantees on what might happen in six months, but did say “those first couple of dates … are locked in now”.

“What I can say is we will keep that under constant review [border fully reopening in October].”

He said the Government did consider the impact of waiting until October to fully reopen the border but added most tourists could enter the country from July at the latest due to visa-waiver travel.

A “minority” of tourists from non-visa-waiver countries would be able to come in from October, he said, so it was not “super accurate” to say tourism is not happening until October.

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