9 September 2021

New Fiordland Business Association boss wants fast-tracked reviews

Nathan Benfell is fairly confident that visitors will return to Fiordland, eventually.

His job as the inaugural Fiordland Business Association chairman is to help business owners access support available to make sure they’re still operating when that happens.

The born-and-bred Southlander, who was appointed to the role in July, has spent the first six weeks of his term ringing members to connect them with government funding and check on their mental wellbeing as Fiordland continues to grapple with the economic impact of the past two years.

Heavy flooding in February 2020 put an early end to that year’s tourist season before Covid-19 closed the borders, taking away the international visitors who accounted for 80 per cent of Fiordland’s economy.

“I want to help my community weather this storm,” Benfell said.

He’s hopeful that the Milford Opportunities Masterplan, launched in late-July, will help keep them excited about the future.

The plan aims to reduce traffic numbers to Milford Sound by recognising Te Anau as a gateway to Fiordland National Park and creating activities and experiences to keep visitors in the area longer – rather than busing in and out for day trips from Queenstown.

As the owner of Shakespeare House Bed and Breakfast, Benfell said his customers often felt like they needed to go home for a holiday because their experience had been too rushed.

Although it was only a blueprint, for now, the association was keen to align itself with the plan and work through the options it presented.

“It would be nice to see a fast-tracked review of the Milford Opportunities plan,” Benfell said.

The association was also advocating for a review of the Fiordland National Park management plan – which was four years overdue and holding business development back, he said.

When he isn’t acting as the business association chair, or running his accommodation business, Benfell occasionally moonlights as a driver for Fiordland Jet and works as a consultant.

There was always something to do when you owned a business, he said.

During the 2020 lockdown, for example, he was expanding the bed and breakfast and repainting.

“When I can, I enjoy getting away with the caravan or the bike. It’s my happy place. I’ve been pretty lucky to live here all my life, really.”

With more than 12 years of governance experience on the Wallacetown Community Board and as chair of Invercargill business networking organisation BNI, Benfell “raised his hand” in December 2020 to help establish the new Business Association, serving on its interim committee, before his appointment.

His past professional experience includes customer relationship roles, management positions, and more recently, working as a livestock area manager for Alliance Group– all of which helped him build the key strength he believes will help the association flourish.

“When you’re a Southlander, relationships are everything,” he said.

Published by The Southland Times – 9 September 2021.