Coronavirus: Pandemic could see 100,000 tourism jobs lost - industry boss

The tourism industry is bracing for potentially 100,000 job losses in the coming months, as the economic impact of the border shutdown and advice not to travel starts to bite. 

New Zealand last week shut its borders to foreigners for the first time in its history, and at the current pandemic alert level - two - non-essential travel is discouraged.

"At a very rough guess, I think maybe 100,000 jobs in the tourism industry are under threat," Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts told The AM Show on Monday.

Already he estimates thousands have been lost.

"The redundancies started last week - thousands of people have already been given redundancy notices and they'll start taking effect. Many, many businesses will be closing this coming week. 

"Some of those are iconic names... the likes of Hobbiton are shutting their doors, Te Puia in Rotorua, many, many businesses across the country."

Queenstown in the South Island relies heavily on tourism. Mayor Jim Boult says employers are "sick to the stomach" at having to let good staff go.

"My best guess is that last week somewhere around 1000 people lost their jobs in the district. I'll be surprised if that's not doubled or tripled in the coming week." 

Chris Roberts
Chris Roberts. Photo credit: The AM Show

Adding to the concern is that two weeks ago, Queenstown hosted an international cattle conference. Four people who attended have since tested positive for COVID-19, which has killed 14,366 people around the world since emerging in China in December. Two of those who tested positive are Kiwis.

"That needs to be balanced against the fact the conference took place before the enormity of what we're facing now was apparent. But look, I have confidence in the district health board and the Ministry of Health to handle this." 

Economist Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show the implosion of the tourism industry will leave a $40 billion hole in the economy - $17 billion from international tourism and $23 from domestic. He said the result will be "bigger than the global financial crisis" of 2008, which saw NZ's GDP contract about 2 percent and unemployment reach 6.7 percent.

"Is the scenario that's unfolding at the moment worse than that? The answer is yes. Do we know precisely how much worse that that? The answer is we don't know." 

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub told Newshub Nation on Saturday it's likely the numbers of Kiwis needing benefits will double, calling for strict conditions and rules to be lifted as the Ministry of Social Development simply won't have the capacity to enforce them all. 

Roberts is hopeful the ski season will keep some operators afloat over winter, before a resurgence in summer. 

"We understand why domestic travel is being discouraged now, but that will be the first place we turn when the opportunity comes to get New Zealanders back out there, back around the country, having a domestic holiday at home. That will get us going again. We don't know when that's going to be, but we hope it's leading into next summer, if not earlier."

But he admits the tourism sector, when it recovers, is likely to be a lot smaller than it has been in recent years, during which it reportedly overtook agriculture as our biggest export. 

"It'll be smaller, absolutely, but we need some tourism business back."