Tourism businesses happy with weekend traffic, await alert level 1

A much-needed financial boost for Queenstown.
A much-needed financial boost for Queenstown. Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Katie Todd of RNZ.

They are crying out for a swift move to alert level 1 so they can make the most of any more demand.

It comes after the busiest weekend in two months for Rotorua operators and a chance to literally get the ball rolling again for Zorb co-owner Melissa Craig.

She said customer numbers were about the same as last weekend, with a surge in intrepid New Zealanders making up for the shortfall of international visitors - and bringing the buzz back to bars and restaurants in the city.

But she said each Zorb needed to be disinfected after use, which made the turnaround between bookings "a little bit slower".

In Queenstown, the number of people Emma Chisholm could take on family-owned Alpine Wine Tours has almost halved due to social distancing in the company's vans.

She was keen for government input.

"I think the sooner we can get to level 1, it will just make it so much better for everyone. We can go back to normal without the distancing in the rows of the van," Chisholm said.

Booking website BookMe chief executive James Alder said alert level 2 requirements were also putting the squeeze on profit margins.

He said tourist operators would be able to offer better deals to customers when they no longer had to enforce strict social distancing.

"As we go to level 1 there will be more seats and more capacity and as more operators come on there will be more competition. So I expect we will see some really, really good details this winter," he said.

A domestic tourism pattern of weekend splurging, followed by quieter weekdays, is adding to the pressure on operators.

Hobbiton opened its doors for the first time this weekend since mid-March and had 400 to 500 people visiting each day.

Marketing manager Shayne Forrest said that was a significant drop from the 1000 to 1500 they would expect this time of year.

"But that was always going to happen with the closure of the borders and we were just thrilled to have so many Kiwis out there and exploring Middle Earth with us," he told Morning Report.

It would open opening seven days a week but expecting mainly weekend customers.

Queenstown hotelier Nik Kiddle said many New Zealanders turned up for the weekend, though they probably spend less as hotels had offered special deals.

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said businesses were now facing a five-week wait until their next busy patch in the school holidays and hoping for any help they can get to tide them over.

"It was a bit frustrating for both hospitality owners and also for the customers."

Some businesses have told Retail NZ general manager Greg Harford they can't afford for spending to fall too flat again after the long weekend.

"Those businesses that were on the edge as the result of effectively not trading for two months will still very much be on the edge. A single weekend's trading is not going to be enough to make up for the losses that have been incurred," he said.

Harford said a move to alert level 1 would be a strong signal from the government, to tell people it's okay to get out shopping.

Paymark expects to release long weekend spending statistics later this week.