Auckland lockdown affecting businesses throughout NZ

Businesses outside Auckland that rely on its travelers are finding it harder to endure 
 the second alert level 3 than coming out of lockdown.
Businesses outside Auckland that rely on its travelers are finding it harder to endure the second alert level 3 than coming out of lockdown. Photo credit: Getty.

By Matthew Theunissen, RNZ

When New Zealanders emerged from their five weeks of level 4 lockdown, the top priority for many was getting a break from home cooking and finally ordering that favourite takeaway.

Fast food outlets reported record sales, and the flat white-deprived population ensured struggling cafes got a much-needed cash injection.

But it appears there's been no such flurry of business for the hospitality sector during the new level 3 lockdown, and there are fears it could be one hurdle too many for some businesses - and not only those in Auckland.

Fish Faze on State Highway 2 in Maramarua is a firm favourite for many Aucklanders travelling to or from the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty.

One might consider them fortunate to sit just outside of the city's boundary and able to operate at level 2, but owner Jennifer Monk said customers from Ngatea and Pokeno aren't going to make up for the Aucklanders now unable to stop in for a paua fritter.

"Most of our business is people passing through, people that live out of Auckland that travel into Auckland. I mean, the amount of businesses that are shut in the area is amazing - all the cafes around us, from all the way here to Ngatea, they're all closed," she said.

"We're pretty much in a worse position than we were when we came out of level 4 lockdown last time, because at least you had the movement between the regions."

The business has also been unable to access the fresh kaimoana it usually buys from Auckland's fish markets.

"We've applied for an exemption but so has everybody else and nobody's heard back. I'm guessing that by the time the exemption comes through the two week period will just about be up," she said.

"So we've made the decision to just shut the doors because we can't get fish and we really haven't got any customers anyway."

Monk's experience is reflected in a new Restaurant Association survey, which found that businesses outside of Auckland are being hit as much if not more than those in the city.

Eighty-seven percent of the 300 or so who took part reported significantly reduced earnings, with revenues of 60 percent or less of what they normally are.

Chief executive Marisa Bidois said 12 percent of Auckland restaurants fear they could close for good in the next 30 days, as do 14 percent of businesses outside the city.

"I just spoke to a member the other day in Queenstown who said that they were heavily reliant on Auckland visitors and with our region being closed off from the rest of the country, they believe that's significantly impacting their businesses.

"It is a significant portion of the population that isn't visiting different regions at the moment."

The fact people haven't been deprived of takeaway food as they were during level 4 is a factor for some businesses, she said.

"People had not had access to any kind of takeaway or their favourite local business for several weeks so there certainly seemed to be more of an appetite for it."

Krishna Botica owns several Auckland eateries including Cafe Hanoi and Xuxu Dumpling Bar.

"The revenue has gone down to 10 percent of where it normally is. I mean there's only so much you can do on takeaways, but we had Mother's Day in the last lockdown and that week was actually quite good, we got up to I think 30 percent," she said.

"The other thing is people are far more adaptable now to living their life in their houses and they aren't as hungry to get out because they haven't been locked down for six weeks."

One of the abiding images from the end of the level 4 lockdown was the vast queues of people waiting at McDonald's drive-thrus.

McDonald's spokesperson Simon Kenny said people's behaviour has been different this time around.

"We've definitely seen in Auckland, in fact around the country, reduced levels of sales. That's a lot to do with not having our lobbies open, which then means that we just have to staff differently, but we're trying to keep as many people working because we know that those behaviours might change again in a week's time."

An Auckland Chamber of Commerce survey of 500 firms found only one in five of the city's businesses was operating normally.

Released this morning, the survey said less than a quarter of Auckland firms were operating at 50 percent while one in 10 were completely shut down.