27 November 2020

Te Anau needs people: both visitors and staff

With the holiday season fast approaching some Fiordland business are facing yet another Covid 19-created obstacle.

Summer is expected to bring a “short, sharp” boost of income for tourist-dependent Te Anau, but restaurateurs are concerned they won’t have enough staff to take advantage of the windfall.

This year, the region has already weathered the literal storm of flooding that wiped out its “greatest assets” – the tramping tracks – in February, and the loss of international tourists who make up about 80 per cent of its economy due to border closures.

Many Fiordland businesses are incredibly grateful to the Kiwis who have taken up the call to “back their backyard”, but there are simply not enough of them, and they can’t spend enough to fill the void.

As Fiordland community board chairperson and business owner Sarah Greaney said, the town’s biggest need right now was people.

With the Department of Conservation tracks booked out for the (albeit shortened) walking season, and the upcoming Christmas Holidays ahead, most are gearing up for a busy four to six weeks.

Te Anau traditionally sees an influx of domestic tourists over Christmas and New Year, Greaney said.

The seasonal staff who would usually provide the extra labour to cater to these visitors, however, have either left New Zealand, or moved to other regions in search of employment in other industries.

The Fat Duck owner Cameron Davies said it was hard to convince staff to sign on for just a few weeks’ work.

Last year, he employed 32 staff in the restaurant over the season. This year he’ll have to make do with 26 – if he can get that many people. The Fat Duck employs 16 full-time staff.

Te Anau was visited by delegations from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Tourism New Zealand this week who came to listen to concerns.

The Tertiary Education Commission would be running a pop-up career advice centre in Te Anau until Christmas.

Davies said labour shortages were a problem across industries, and said a regional approach to skills shortage lists for assigning visas would be helpful.

Staff aside, the biggest challenge The Fat Duck faced was cash flow, he said.

While the tracks and Christmas would bring welcome relief, Davies was concerned about numbers in February to April when domestic tourists would have gone back to work and used their available leave.

The Ranch Pub and Grill owner Dan Anderson had been struggling to get visa conditions changed for a chef who already worked in the region, in the same field.

By the time the process was complete, it would likely to be two weeks out from Christmas, he said.

He’d advertised the job widely for three months, but had little response.

Anderson’s business was bringing in 50 per cent less than usual, but he was worried about those he’d heard of that were down by as much as 90 per cent.

“Some of them might choose to shut their doors after summer,” he said.

Anderson’s highest priority was keeping his 16 full time employees in jobs.

Great South Fiordland employment and resource manager Glyn Saunders said staff shortages extended to other industries like teaching and specialist trades.

He was setting up a series of workshops to bring high school students and unemployed members of the community together to plug some holes.

Saunders had spent the past two months contacting businesses about their needs and said it wasn’t natural for them to speak about troubles.

“This is not a town of people who cry out for help. People are pretty stoic and just get on with it.”

Business owners recently voted to establish a Fiordland Business Association which will support collaborative work and build a collective voice for petitioning Government.

They are being surveyed to determine their three highest priorities before moving forward.

Four years ago this time, people were camping on the lawns of Bella Vista Motel, now they’ve got a handful of bookings for December.

Over at Te Anau Top 10 holiday Park, it’s the same story.

Owner Brad Malloy has been training staff to do multiple jobs after being forced to slash his workforce in half.

One of his staff members came up with a marketing campaign with the slogan “See Fiordland, stay Te Anau,” while updating his and other business websites around town.

“We need people to come here and stay a minimum of three nights. They can tick a few things of their bucket lists while they’re here,” Malloy said.

Trips and Tramps owner Steve Norris has been seeing success with packages and said offering quirky experiences was the key to tapping the domestic market.

Visitor numbers to Milford would drop from 850, 000 to 150, 000 this year he said, and at least 10 small businesses were competing for those customers.

But Norris and Malloy were fairly confident that business would bounce back when the borders reopen, and they say its important tht were ready for them.

“A year ago, no-one had heard about Covid-19,” Norris said. “Who knows what the conversation will be in another year’s time.”

Article published by Southland Times – 27 November 2020
https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/123530298/te-anau-needs-people-both-visitors-and-staff