Northland tourism operators are bracing for a busy summer, though many still worry about the spread of Covid. Photo / file
Northland tourism operators may be bracing for a booming summer season but there are still concerns about crippling staff shortages and the spread of Covid-19.
It’s not looking like smooth sailing for many businesses in
the Bay of Islands this holiday season as many are still struggling with the fallout of Covid-19 three years after it hit our shores.
Riki Kinnaird, co-owner of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, said he was pleased the hotel was 95 per cent booked until the end of March, which was in line with normal pre-Covid bookings.
However, his biggest issue was the lack of skilled staff, and workers in general, he said.
They are currently 20 staff short, and need senior management staff, senior waiters and skilled chefs.
Kinnaird said he was “apprehensive” about the upcoming summer holiday period, and would have to reduce capacity if they can’t provide top service.
“The impact of staff shortages and the inability of the government to open early enough to international workers is having a massive impact,” Kinnaird said.
Kinnaird said normally, businesses would know what international workers were like to work with because they would already be here.
But now they were having to recruit people “sight unseen”, which made it difficult, he said.
“It’s too late for our season, but it’s not just our industry. There are still hurdles, it’s hard to get visas and it’s costly.
“We’re scared because our reputation is at risk.
“We’ve spent 12 years building a great product built around service, that’s what a lot of Northland businesses do, and not having the quality equal to represent the brand… it could erode all that overnight.
“We’re trying to patch holes that the government has caused.”
Peter Sharpe, the owner of Bay of Island Cottages in Russell, said he’s got bookings until April 2024.
“October 2024 is our longest booking,” Sharpe said.
“What we’ve had over the last three years, is people who were coming in 2020 postpone until 2021, and people who were coming in 2021 postpone till 2022, now we’ve got three times as much business as we would normally have.”
But Sharpe said he still worried about the virus, particularly with cruise ships coming into the Bay of Islands.
His concerns come after passengers on a 12-day cruise around New Zealand on the Majestic Princess spent time ashore in several places, including the Bay of Islands, last month.
An estimated 800 of the combined 4600 passengers and crew had Covid-19.
The ship and its passengers spent their last day in and around Russell and Paihia on November 9 with excursions to the markets at the Paihia Village Green.
“In Russell we are one step away from that, and a lot of people are starting to get Covid again,” Sharpe said
“We are constantly thinking about these guests that are coming. We like the social aspect of the business… but it has this dark cloud hanging over it.”
Dive Paihia owner Craig Johnston said he was looking forward to a “positive summer”.
“It’s great to have tourists coming back. We’re running mostly with internationals at the moment, and we’ve got good bookings into summer as well.
“It’s a bit of a struggle staffing-wise, but we’ve managed to find international staff to fill any gaps we had.
“We’ve been quite fortunate but I know some hospitality people who have been struggling around town.
“The problem is it’s seasonal here, there’s a busy period over a few months and it drops away again.”
Johnston said he was “crossing my fingers and toes we don’t get hit [by Covid] over the busy period”.
“If it happens it happens, we just have to look after the health of our customers and crew if that’s the case.
“We got through the last two-and-a-half years so it’s good to be back in profitable business. It’s good to see the town busy.”
Tourism New Zealand research shows 71 per cent of New Zealanders are planning on taking a domestic holiday in the next 12 months, and of those, almost half have already booked it.
“Christmas and the summer holidays are typically a time when more New Zealanders travel domestically, but it’s fantastic to see that almost half of Kiwis have already locked in their holiday,” chief executive René de Monchy said.
Bachcare said it’s already close to full capacity for the holiday home rental properties it manages for the traditional New Year’s Eve hotspots including the Bay of Islands.
For the first week of January, they only have eight properties out of 181 in the Bay of Island, with three nights or more available to book, spokesman Nick Peirce said.
“Our top five centres – Coromandel, Lake Taupo, Southern Lakes/Queenstown, Mount Maunganui/Papamoa and the Bay of Islands – already have occupancies above 90 per cent for the first week of January 2023.”