COVID-19: Auckland's level 3 lockdown hits South Island ski fields

South Island ski fields were around 40 percent down on numbers in August.
South Island ski fields were around 40 percent down on numbers in August. Photo credit: Getty

By Tess Brunton of RNZ

South Island ski fields are feeling the loss of Auckland visitors in the wake of the level 3 restrictions.

Cardrona Alpine Resort, which also operates Treble Cone near Wanaka, has lost more than 30 percent of its business when level 3 prevented the Aucklanders from visiting the slopes.

General manager Bridget Legnavsky said it had been a rollercoaster of a season.

"The second week of the July school holidays we had the equivalent, if not slightly better, week than last year so that gives you some idea of how busy and we weren't expecting anything like that. We were expecting more like 50 percent," Legnavsky said.

The ski fields had been preparing for some big weeks to round off the month before the alert levels were raised.

"We had some big weeks coming up in August and we could see them coming them through - the way we see it is generally through future bookings or forward bookings and also bed nights in the town so we were watching that very carefully, and the bed nights in Wanaka for the week of the 24th of August were up to 100 percent so we were getting ready for that.

"But clearly we've had a whole lot of cancellations from people not being able to get to those so that will change."

The ski fields were about 40 percent down on numbers in August.

That was to be expected as the international market usually started to arrive in force with a lot of Australians and overseas athletes in the mix, she said.

While the July school holidays were a much needed boost, August also brought a significant warm spell with north-westerlies and rain - "we've probably not seen something so long before" - and then level 2 restrictions were announced nationwide, rising to level 3 in Auckland.

The next day both ski fields were closed to ensure both were prepared for level 2 conditions and staff were too.

She did not believe the ski fields were experiencing signs of lower travel confidence.

"People seem to be really comfortable."

The current levels worked well for them at present as they were not overwhelmed by numbers when there were limits in place, she said.

"It's kind of organically perfect ... because I don't think we would have been able to handle the level 2 environment with too many people here and making a decision of who could come and who couldn't come was going to be really, really tricky."

The eventual lowering of levels would most likely mean a fantastic September if Aucklanders embraced travelling like they did in the wake of lockdown, Legnavsky said.

"Right now we're just grateful to be open."

NZ Ski runs Coronet Peak, the Remarkables in Queenstown and Mt Hutt in Canterbury, and its chief executive Paul Anderson said New Zealanders had been very supportive of the ski fields.

"Our school holidays were stronger than last year even though we were missing the Australian market, which is usually 30 to 40 percent of visitors," he said.

But now the impact of level 3 restrictions in Auckland was being felt, Anderson said.

"Probably not quite as we expected ... it's dropped off, the season pass visitation remains quite strong because most of the holders live locally. But the day pass visitation has dropped off by about 25 percent just in that first four days of level 2."

They were running on about half the normal number of visitors, he said.

But Anderson was pleased to be able to offer more certainty to his staff and keep them working, he said.

As long as the ski fields remained under level 2 restrictions or lower, they planned to continue welcoming guests.

"We'd love to see Auckland come out of level 3 and be allowed to travel again ... they're hitting our website. We can see they're looking at the web shots and pictures of people skiing so I really feel for them in virtual lockdown. But we'd love to see them back."

Their return would make a big impact for Queenstown and the nearby ski fields, he said.

"It's huge and it's not just for the ski fields. It's also for the wider business community in Queenstown. The Aucklanders, they spend more like the Australians because they are on holiday so they come with some money in their pockets. They come skiing, they hire their skis, they take lessons and then when they're downtown, they stay in hotels and use hospitality.

"It's just great for the overall vibe of Queenstown to get that market back."