4 Dec 2021

Tourism industry 'not flavour of the month' with banks

3:36 pm on 4 December 2021

A major South Island tourism operator has warned that banks are running out of goodwill towards the industry as the impact of Covid-19 continues to bite.

Helicopter landing on Franz Josef Glacier, South Island.

Franz Josef glacier Photo: 123RF

Totally Tourism owner and director Mark Quickfall briefed the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board on the state of adventure tourism in the south almost two years on from the loss of international visitors.

The business is the umbrella company for a number of long-established enterprises, including Glacier Helicopters at Franz Josef.

"We're fortunate that we are a mature business and I have an understanding wife, but we're burning cash and the carpets won't be replaced any time soon," Quickfall told the board.

He believed his company would survive but had real concerns for a number of others.

"The latest government announcements (on reopening borders) are understandable from a health perspective but they will make the next 12 months very challenging for hospitality and accommodation companies."

Recovery would be a long haul, he predicted.

"We'll get Auckland (visitors) back, that will be fantastic and if we get Australia that will probably be enough to keep a lot of businesses going. But if we don't get Australia soon I am fearful we'll see more disappear."

He was not sure there would be a huge uptake if Australians had to isolate for seven days when the borders opened again in April.

"But until we get those other markets back, it's a pretty dicey situation."

The breakdown of overseas supply chains would take a long time to rebuild, Quickfall warned.

"We've spent a lot of time promoting New Zealand offshore, in Asia and Europe and the United States, working with wholesalers and convincing them to send people here for a great holiday.

"There's 20 to 30 years of hard work there, but many companies have closed down or hibernated; lots of product managers have left their jobs and it's going to be a big education process to get people back on board."

His company had kept on as many staff as possible and the Government's Jobs for Nature programme in South Westland had helped to keep people in Franz Josef.

But Quickfall said he had met four tourism business owners in the past week who were facing closure.

"Tourism is not the flavour of the month with banks any more. Your only options are to have strong cash reserves; have someone support you, or get more money from the bank and those options are running out."

It did not help that tourism companies were unable to renew concessions because of the delay in reviewing National Park plans, Quickfall said.

"I'm going to be brave here," Quickfall told board members and DOC Western South Island director Mark Davies. "The Government's management of tourism access on public land is pretty clunky and this is a big issue for tourism and the economy.

"If you have no security of tenure, you have no business. And the banks aren't lending money to tourism businesses as it is.

"So if I have to go to my bank manager and he says, 'Your landings at Milford, where are they?' and they're expiring December 31 this year... where does that leave you?"

However, Totally Tourism's Franz Josef heli-hiking operation had been granted an interim year-long concession to land higher up the glacier than the Westland National Park management plan allowed.

Davies said that was because the spots designated in the plan for helicopter landing had become unsafe because of increased rockfalls as the glacier retreated.

The conservation board has input into national park plans and would need to think about moving to a more effects-based system for managing aircraft landings in the parks, rather than having fixed locations as at present, Davies said.

Conservation board chairman Mike Legge said he expected the stalled park plan reviews to get under way again next year.

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