By Tessa Guest
Kaikōura business owners are desperate for borders to be reopened to keep their companies afloat.
The peak summer season was cut short by the shift to the red traffic light setting in the Covid-19 Protection Framework in late January, and the seaside town is looking at a bleak winter ahead.
South Pacific Helicopters marketing and partnerships manager Krissy Griggs said international holidaymakers amounted to at least 90 percent of the tourism business in Kaikōura.
Without this customer base, she said businesses were not getting close to normal customer numbers for the summer season.
"Our future bookings have stopped, Kiwis do tend to book on the day, and we're not getting those day bookings. There's no traffic coming through Kaikōura, and if there is, it's very limited."
Encounter Kaikōura business manager Lynette Buurman agreed.
"Our winter is looking terrible. It's just booking screen after booking screen of no bookings, and that is the reality of not having international visitors in our picture yet."
This was also echoed by Westpac's Economic Overview, released last week, which said the tourism sector would not recover this year, with self-isolation requirements excluding most overseas visitors.
Border restrictions do not fully drop until October under the government's five-stage reopening plan, although fully vaccinated New Zealanders returning from Australia will be able to skip self-isolation from Wednesday and the arrival date for fully vaccinated New Zealanders travelling from other parts of the world has been brought forward to Friday.
They will also not have to self-isolate.
The pandemic is not the first major hit for Kaikōura, which was struck with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in late 2016, isolating residents and stripping their customer base.
The town had just bounced back to pre-earthquake trading levels when the pandemic arrived, setting them back yet again.
Buurman said although residents and businesses owners could cope well in hardship, they were facing fatigue from the continual challenges of the last four years.
"Our poor region's had a lot of pressure, a lot of loss to contend with, and I think it's the layers of loss really that are presenting the ultimate challenge right now for people."
Kaikōura Mayor Craig Mackle empathised with business owners, who had been supporting each other to keep their heads above water.
"You couldn't get worse timing for some businesses."
But he said the silver lining of the 2016 earthquake was that they knew it would be possible to overcome this challenge.
"We know we're going to get through it, we know there's going to be an end to this."
Mackle also offered residents advice: "If you're feeling down, particularly if you're here today, just go and stand outside for a wee bit and have a look at what you've actually got for free, which is our area."