Wet weather dashes summer hopes for some tourism operators

By Jonty Dine for RNZ

What was meant to be a grand return to business has become another nightmare for the tourism sector after a wet start to the year.

On the back of two tough years, the tourism industry's post-Covid return has been marred by poor weather in parts of the country.

Tourism operators reliant on sunny skies have been dealt a blow as cancellations and refunds followed the rain.

Dolphin Seafaris director Cille Fabert said it was reliant on fine weather to be able to run its dolphin encounter trips.

"Covid was a bit easier in some respects because we had the government subsidy then, whereas now there is nothing we can do."

By the end of Sunday the Mt Maunganui company had only run four trips so far in 2023, well below its usual number, which would see boats going out daily.

"It's quite gut-wrenching actually, and when you see there is another front coming in ... one after the other just battering us so, it's not easy."

Rebooking for another dolphin sighting tour was not an option for many tourists Fabert said, with many in town for just a day.

"Obviously a lot of people are paying in advance for the trips, so the amount of refunds has been insane."

Holiday campgrounds were also feeling the wrath of the weather.

Whangārei Blue Heron Holiday Park owner Grant Mcgough said operators and holiday makers alike were affected.

The business was primed for a great year as the public response to Covid-19 eased, but that had not eventuated so far, Mcgough said.

"The campers are staying away while waiting for better weather to come along," he said.

"It would have been great to have a bumper season but it has tailed off quite a bit this last rainy period and I guess a lot of disappointed holiday people as well."

People were unlikely to return, Mcgough said.

"In January we have found a lot of people wait till last minute because they know the key period [is] past with New Year's Eve, so they wait to see what's happening and they just aren't coming.

"We have had quite a few cancellations."

In Tauranga, Bay Explorer cruise company owner Brandon Stone had also been hit hard.

"On the back of Covid you have a weather situation like that - which no one can control - but twelve days from the first of January probably $30,000 in current bookings cancelled. And during that period we didn't make any new bookings, so we actually refunded about $30,000 worth of bookings."

Prior to the new year the company was taking full boats out to sea daily, Stone said.

"They wanted to get out there and do stuff but they couldn't. We noticed a dramatic change in people's behaviour - either just hunkered down or leaving early."

Accommodation support service Look After Me managing director Julia Anne said the tourists were out there, but they were being spontaneous and changing their plans to reflect the weather, which would be tough for some operators.

"Adventure tourism for example, that will be badly affected by the weather, and it's a very difficult time for those operators to be faced with and [my] heart goes out to them."

Camping had also not been a goer for families this summer, Anne said.

"Dealing with wet sleeping bags day after day is a bit of a drama."

Despite the glum start, operators RNZ spoke to were still hopeful the season could turn itself around, particularly with the return of cruise ships.

"We hope when the sun does finally come out that people do get out and have that holiday," Mcgough said.

"They need it and so do we."