30 Sep 2021

South Island tourism operators relying on Auckland bookings await level update

1:06 pm on 30 September 2021

South Island tourism operators are crossing their fingers ahead of the October school holidays as they wait to hear if Aucklanders can travel again.

Skiers and snowboarders at Cardrona Alpine Resort

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Businesses have been looking forward to these holidays after a long winter.

But so far bookings have been light for many, despite the break starting this weekend.

The October school holidays won't come soon enough for some ski fields which have turned off their lifts and closed after a disrupted season.

Wayfare chief experience officer Bridget Legnavsky oversees Cardrona and Treble Cone ski areas.

While Treble Cone had officially closed for the season, she said it had one last hurrah instore.

"We're extending and opening the first weekend of the school holidays just because the snow is so amazing.

"The snow's incredible so we're really hoping that people follow that and the fact that a lot of them would have missed out in their normal August skiing so our fingers are crossed that people will still come."

She was expecting good visitor numbers on the slopes.

But the loss of Aucklanders - who are roughly half of their visitors - would be keenly felt.

"You're competing now with spring and summer activities like mountain biking," Legnavsky said.

"I think we have to just get the message out there that the skiing's the best it's been all season and try to encourage people to choose to come skiing when they've got a lot of other choice.

"So these school holidays are always quite soft but they'll obviously be a lot softer without Auckland here."

In Dunedin, Deborah Price from Larnach Castle said the October holidays were usually a boon after winter.

"The coach tours would be rolling in with people from Australia and America and China and all over the place. We would have had some cruise ships in by now and a lot of hustle and bustle."

But that was before Covid.

They had made a few changes since the first lockdown to attract more visitors including free entry for kids and early bird passes.

But she said Aucklanders would be sorely missed if they couldn't travel.

"Unfortunately I've just looked at our accommodation bookings for the next two weeks and yeah, not looking wonderful. There's a slight rise in occupancy but we still have a lot of empty rooms."

She was still holding out hope that more bookings would come through and they would have plenty at the gate.

Aoraki Mt Cook alpine village would usually be booked out for the holidays which signal the start of summer season.

Tony Delaney owns Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge, and said they were half full, but that was likely to change.

"The challenge is that we only have a 48 hour cancellation policy so people in Auckland are living in hope. Our bookings don't necessarily reflect what will actually happen."

The village is four hours or less drive from Dunedin, Christchurch and Queenstown.

They had been getting good support from domestic travellers, he said.

"People from the North Island are still getting around so they're having their holidays here.

"A lot of people were booked to go to the Cook Islands and this lockdown has changed people's plans so we get the follow through or the over-flow from that."

He was hopeful some alert level changes would be on the cards soon.

"If Auckland is at level 2, then we'll expect to be quite busy. But right now, bookings are pretty light."

All eyes would nervously be on Monday's alert level announcement to see whether Aucklanders could return to southern slopes and streets.

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