COVID-19 alert level 4 could put tourism operators out of business for good

Just days into alert level 4 lockdown, tourism operators are fearful as the arrival of the Delta variant in Aotearoa has cut off the only market open to them - the domestic Kiwi traveller. 

On Tuesday the Government was trumpeting a $26 million boost for the promotion of regional tourism, but some operators worry if the lockdown drags on, it could be the final nail in their coffins.

Off the beaten track destinations like Waitomo were already struggling.

Pre-COVID-19, 2000 visitors a day flooded into the region; on Tuesday even before Kiwis were told to stay home, Waitomo Caves had hosted just 35 people.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa CEO Chris Roberts says while it's important to keep the country safe he hopes the lockdown will be short and sharp.

"Tourism operators feel like they've been in a boxing ring for a long time, they are feeling punch drunk. This will be the final straw for some who will not survive but most are incredibly resilient," said Roberts.

Some who've already tried to adapt by lowering prices for the domestic market now fear what Delta will deal to them.

Fox Glacier Guiding CEO Rob Jewell said his company used to draw 97 percent of its business from offshore and domestic business just simply isn't enough.

"Even if I quadrupled my domestics, it's just still not enough to sustain us for the long term. We've survived until now but it's been a pretty tough road," he said.

The gloss has been taken off Tuesday's $26 million dollar announcement that'd see regional tourism bodies promote attractions to domestic travellers.

A market that's on hold for now.

"There's going to need to be some short and sharp relief needed for operators throughout the country," SeaLife Kelly Tarlton's CEO Dan Henderson said.

The Government says wage subsidies and support are being rolled out and, according to Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult, so too is the welcome mat.

"My message to fellow Kiwis is when we do emerge from this lockdown do come and visit us, we'll give you a kiss on both cheeks," Boult said.