Tourist operators want a more positive vibe as visitor numbers dip

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The Omicron outbreak is causing visitor spending to tank in Taranaki after it defied predictions and held its own during the first two years of the pandemic.

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Kiko Matthews who owns Chaddy’s Charters wants people to think seriously about resuming their normal lives. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The sector wants the government to help boost confidence and encourage travellers to get back on the road again.

International tourists, mostly Australians, only account for about 20 percent of visitors to Taranaki.

After total visitor spending dipped following the border closure in 2020, the sector rebounded strongly last year earning $245 million – $11m more than in 2019.

Over the same period, the international spend dived about 43 percent to $16m.

Venture Taranaki chief executive Justine Gilliland said the region had been able to leverage off its domestic visitor base, which had since dissolved.

“It’s really been though the combination of those Auckland lockdowns and the more recent red light settings combined with people’s own cautiousness that has then made it unfortunately a less positive experience for our visitor sector.”

She expected the first quarter results for 2022 would make grim reading.

Gilliland said the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions would help, but she was conscious it was public perception which mattered most.

“We are also aware, however, that it will depend on how comfortable people are and where things are at in terms of the Omicron spread and case numbers.”

Gilliland said what the sector needed most now was certainty.

Traffic light settings confuse pub owner

The owner of the Nice Hotel and Table restaurant, Terry Parkes, has made changes to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions – but said it was hard to keep up.

“Are things going to change for us under orange? Ah, I guess so. Just tell me again what orange is? I’m very unsure.

“I’d better go and have a look on the computer because if I go out now and look at what orange level means I would say by 11 o’clock today it will be different. It’s just a moving target.”

The traffic light setting remains at red at present.

Parkes said after having a good 2021, business was now down 70 percent on pre-pandemic levels.

“People are scared to go out. They are not sure, like me owning the place, they’re not sure what they should be doing coming out for dinner, coming for a drink. They’re not sure what’s going on, so what’s happening is people are just staying home.”

He wanted a change of government.

The owner of the Nice Hotel and Table restaurant, Terry Parkes in Taranaki

Terry Parkes has seen patronage slump 70 percent this year. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Kiko Matthews took over a tourism business, Chaddy’s Charters, just after the 2020 lockdown.

It runs trips in a 1950s wooden rescue boat to a seal colony on Ngā Motu or the Sugar Loaf Islands.

Matthews said it had been doing record numbers, but there was still something missing.

“This year we’ve been putting on like five full boats a day which was unheard of.

“I think this season’s November December was awesome weather but then February and March both years we’ve had great weather but it’s been really slow and I think that’s because we’ve got no international tourists who would normally be travelling at this time.”

She wanted the messaging to change.

“I think there needs to be some confidence that life has to get back to normal and I think the messages need to be out there that it needs to be people’s choice whether they want to come and want to live a normal life that we’ve been used to or just be like, if you don’t want to do it then don’t come out.”

The government will review the traffic light setting on 4 April, the same day vaccine passes will be consigned to history.

Australians will be welcomed back to New Zealand from 13 April.

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