Coronavirus: Hospitality industry keen for vaccine passport, some less keen to pay for it

By Jake McKee for RNZ

As we look to the future of New Zealand's COVID-19 response, there's increasing talk about how businesses will deal with mixing the vaccinated with the unvaccinated.

Maybe it's a vaccine passport, but there are questions about the legality of it and who would hold responsibility - the Government or businesses.

However, some of the big names in Wellington's hospitality scene are on the fence. The idea has been floated for months now.

Bronwyn Kelly, who co-owns the Maranui Cafe and Queen Sally's Diamond Deli in Lyall Bay would have no issue with the Government mandating a vaccine passport.

"I mean you want to do what's best for people."

But the idea of having to enforce it herself left her with more questions and she did not think many people in the hospitality sector would be on board with that.

She also thought her staff were "under so much stress anyway" that having to monitor customer's vaccine passports would take it to a "whole new level".

"And how do you tell a family that might come in that they can't come in if their daughter's not vaccinated?

"There are going to be so many unknowns."

Kelly wanted to see more light at the end of the tunnel for businesses.

"It does feel a lot at the moment like ... you never know what the government's going to decide and whether we can get fully vaccinated enough," she said.

"I mean, what does the future hold?"

Matt McLaughlin, who owns the likes of Panhead Tory Street and Moustache Bar in the city's entertainment district, was in a similar mindset.

"It's a really tough conversation to have."

He recognised a vaccine passport was probably full of legal hurdles for officials if it was mandated but said it would make things easier on businesses.

McLaughlin thought being presented with more of a COVID-19 recovery roadmap could help get businesses on board with the idea.

"We don't know whether we're going to be closed next week, we don't know whether we can order stock, we don't know if we can employ more staff.

"We're really in no-man's land."

He said they were in "complete limbo" as an industry and putting the onus of vaccine passports on businesses would be "really difficult to do when we don't know what the bigger picture is going to look like".

Epic Hospitality director Greig Wilson supported the idea of a vaccine passport whether it was mandated or not.

He was in favour of it being mandated but was prepared to implement it himself at his string of bars on Courtenay Place and Dixon Street - the heart of Wellington's nightlife.

"Everyone has to do their bit otherwise we're going to be going around in circles and COVID's going to be popping up around the country and holding the country back."

Even if vaccine passports weren't mandated, he would like to see the Government give a hand to those who want it - such as a system or app that could be shown to staff to facilitate the enforcement of vaccine passports.

"That could work."

Vaccine passport or not, there was one thing these hospitality heads all agreed on: they wanted to see vaccination rates keep rising so they could get a better picture of the future.