17 March 2021

Nash to be quizzed on trans-Tasman plan during southern visit

Southern tourism bosses say they desperately need a date for when the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be a reality, so they can attempt to keep their businesses going.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash will be in Southland on Thursday, and business leaders say they need a date and more information about when boarders might re-open.

However, Nash, on Tuesday, said he had been upfront that mass-scale international tourism was unlikely before 2022, and that the Government was working hard to open a trans-Tasman bubble as soon as possible this year.

“We have never stopped working on the issue of the trans-Tasman bubble,” he said, but community cases in both New Zealand and Australia had slowed things down.

However, Southland District deputy mayor Ebel Kremer said: “We’re in this huge vacuum of a lack of information.”

A small group of business owners, representing a cross-section of Fiordland’s economy, had been invited to meet Nash, Kremer said.

Kremer worried that if businesses were forced to close, there would be no community to welcome visitors when they eventually returned. He said 11 Fiordland businesses had closed because of Covid-19.

Queenstown Lakes District Council mayor Jim Boult said a clear date for a trans-Tasman bubble would give operators space to make arrangements to defer payments like loans.

There should be a time by which government could say it had safely vaccinated enough New Zealanders against Covid-19 to safely reopen the borders, he said.

Boult understood that the Government was wary of providing a specific date in fear of future outbreaks, but New Zealand and Australia had already demonstrated their ability to manage these, he said.

“It’s time to put a date on the table.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said business owners knew how to plan but not knowing when their customer base might return made it impossible to make decisions around whether to close, hibernate, lay off or employ staff.

Fiordland Jet co-owner Chris Adams is part of a group of operators who collectively sought legal advice about how funding decisions for the Government’s strategic assets protection programme were made.

He said it was frustrating to see the Government spending money on things like firearm buy-back schemes when tourism businesses throughout New Zealand were hurting.

“I want to know his [Nash’s] plan for the future of tourism,” Adams said.

“He can’t save everyone, but there’s an opportunity for a wage subsidy or something to tide businesses over until the bubbles reopen.”

Nash was visiting to “hear first-hand from local mayors and councillors, small businesses, employers, community organisations and iwi about how they are responding to the impact of closed borders”.

He would also be hearing updates on the roll-out of tourism support and infrastructure investment from the Tourism Recovery Package, Provincial Growth Fund and other sources, he said.

Nash said that a $400 million dollar support package for tourism was set up last year, and that wider support through wage subsidies, resurgence payments, and interest-free loans are also available.

Meanwhile, the National Party launched a petition Tuesday, calling on government to open a quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble immediately – which leader Judith Collins said would bring a much-needed boost to the tourism industry and free up space in managed isolation facilities.

The Queenstown business community have invited Nash to visit the Village Green on Friday morning where they will host a rally asking for clarity on the future of international travel to New Zealand.

Source: Stuff.co.nz