‘Burnout is a real thing down here’: Locals pitch in to keep Queenstown businesses open

Queenstown locals are putting up their hands – and picking up dish cloths – to help as businesses brace for a busy winter with staff thin on the ground.

South Island residents are waking up to a white blanket of snow as a cold blast works its way up the country.

Queenstown locals are picking up casual work to fill staff shortages around town Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Over the Easter and Anzac long weekends, many Queenstown hotels and restaurants capped their reservations because they didn’t have enough staff and to avoid burning out the ones they do have.

That was where the Locals Keeping Queenstown Open initiative hoped to ease the pressure by connecting willing people with some spare hours to businesses.

When Mel Haarer first saw the call for Queenstown locals to pitch in on Facebook last Friday, she was thousands of kilometres away, waiting at Heathrow Airport for her flight home.

She’s the founder of Connect and Care, and was looking for some temporary work before business picked up.

“I just thought I’ll put my hand forward to work some shifts or hours that suit me as a single parent in between school. Just whatever’s available in what I can do, then I can help the businesses hopefully and vice versa.”

Now that her jetlag was easing, she was hoping to pitch in for her community, and for struggling businesses and staff.

“Burnout is a real thing down here and I think anything that we can do to prevent further burnout and reduce stress is a good thing.”

With a background in tourism management and a few hospitality and service jobs under her belt, she didn’t mind how she helped out.

“I’m not too proud to clean toilets or do some housekeeping. I think it’s just whatever is available.

“I’m quite happy to do a variety of different jobs, help in the kitchen, whether that’s doing dishes or prepping food or front of house.”

Future Hospitality Group operates several businesses in the resort town.

Its co-director Bert Haines said staff were very thin on the ground.

They have adapted opening hours and days to ensure they could cope.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to tap on the shoulders of some of our former employees that have worked for us, and they’ve come in and done ‘cameo shifts’ just to help us get through some of the weekends.

“We’ve sort of got that lined up even a bit in May and into June as we’re trying to staff up for the winter.”

The initiative was already making a difference, he said.

“It’s been a great initiative. It’s been awesome to see uptake in it.

“I’ve spoken with other operators that have actually leant into it and no surprises a few of the faces that have jumped out. Other small business owners that have jumped in to help and musos, just fantastic local people who have answered that call.”

They’ve got 32 staff in total, but Haines said they needed nearly double that for winter so they could open each business back up to seven days.

A few former staff were returning for the winter, but he wasn’t ruling out seeking a helping hand from locals.

“If we do get to that stage where it’s the difference of being able to open a venue for the night, 100 percent I’d jump on and use that initiative.”

The Locals Keeping Queenstown Open Facebook page was launched earlier this month.

Page co-founder and Xtravel co-owner Tori Keating said they’ve had a huge uptake in messages already.

“It’s not creating new jobs or new employment. It’s just creating a bridge to get us through the winter season while we’re still waiting for people to come back into town.”

With eager skiers and snowboarders expected to arrive in their droves, Queenstown businesses were hopeful more workers weren’t far away.

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