17 March 2022

Border reopening: ‘It’s like unwrapping a present’ business leader says

“There’s a buzz around town” in Te Anau, where business owners say news of the borders reopening sooner is “almost like unwrapping a present.”

On Wednesday, the Government announced it would open New Zealand’s border for isolation-free travel to vaccinated Australians from 11.59pm on April 12 while tourists from visa-waiver countries like the United States and UK will be able to arrive from 11.59pm on May 1.

Fiordland Business Association chair Nathan Benfell likened it to opening a present or “a mid-winter Christmas.”

Benfell operates Shakespeare House Bed and Breakfast and the border reopening date was something Fiordland businesses had been asking for, for a long time.

The region had been doing it particularly tough since February 2020 when flooding closed walking tracks, before New Zealand closed its borders, cutting Fiordland off from international tourists who made up 80 per cent of its economy.

Businesses – particularly tourism operators – had been living off government grants and the Kiwis who “did a good job” of backing their backyard, Benfell said.

Some owners had been finding alternative work in other sectors.

But the new dates – which brought the border reopening forward from October, meant uncertainty and anxiety had been replaced by hope, he said, adding that it was also good news for the mental health and wellbeing of his community.

For many, it would mean surviving the winter.

“Now we’ve got to recruit some staff and open our businesses back up,” Benfell said.

This would be a challenge, “but my gee, it’s a great concern to have,” he said.

Wings and Water Te Anau chief executive Kylie Krippner said there was a buzz in Te Anau and everyone was talking about the news.

Apart from the businesses benefits, people waiting to see family aboard were “ecstatic,” she said.

The business would need to spend some money on maintenance for the planes it had mothballed, but Krippner said she now had assurance that the aircraft would be working.

Aden Motel owner Irene Benfell-Herron audibly gasped when she heard the news.

“A lot of us thought we’d have to walk away from our businesses,” she said.

She was equally enthusiastic about working holiday visa holders being allowed back into the country, which she hoped would ease staffing challenges for bigger operators.

Fiordland Jet co-owner Chris Adams was pleased about the news, but worried the region would miss out on the numbers it usually saw in summer.

“Now is the time to get rid of the traffic light system that’s holding us back. Then we can get on as a country with having some fun,” he said.

He would make sure the businesses was running at full steam by the summer holiday.

Invercargill Licensing Trust chief executive Chris Ramsay expected the hospitality, accommodation and tourism businesses to start seeing the benefit of the reopening by the end of the year.

For ILT, the news means the Langlands Hotel being build in Invercargill will be able to open as scheduled in mid-2022, rather than holding off until tourists returned.

“We’re more confident that we can open as soon as we get the keys from the builder, Ramsay said.

Great South tourism and events general manager Bobbi Brown said the development agency had been working to keep Southland top of mind for travellers when they returned, but would now be “pressing go” on a number of projects – including marketing campaigns and engagement with operators overseas.

Source: stuff.co.nz – 16 March 2022

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