Fears border changes may burst domestic travel bubble

6:56 pm on 2 March 2022

By Jonathan Leask Local Democracy reporter

A Methven tourism operator fears the border opening may not result in the economic boom many are forecasting.

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After two booming seasons, the borders reopening could impact Mt Hutt Ski Area if New Zealanders flock overseas. Photo: LDR

James McKenzie, Mt Hutt Ski Area manager and Opuke Hot pools director, said the easing of border restrictions may not result in a big tourism boost but have the opposite effect.

"It could be worse because Kiwis can now head overseas for holidays without having to isolate on the way back and the border remains closed for overseas tourists right now," McKenzie said.

"Over the past two years, Kiwis have been effectively trapped in New Zealand and have made the most of good snow conditions at Mt Hutt."

Mt Hutt has traditionally relied more on domestic skiers than the international market, he said, and with overseas travel not an option for the last two years Mt Hutt has had record numbers flock to the slopes.

McKenzie fears the borders opening may see that domestic travel market diminish, however, the addition of the recently opened Opuke Hot Pools and Spa adds an extra drawcard to Methven, both domestically and for international tourists.

He is joining the chorus for the other international travel restrictions to be eased sooner, with the current July timeframe falling in the middle of the ski season.

"The sooner we see changes the better. Airlines need time to bring capacity on prior to winter.

"Given that the border still remains closed to overseas tourists, you could argue it is too late for any changes to restrictions to have much of an impact this winter."

He is hopeful that the now quarantine free travel from Australia may have an impact when the ski season opens in June, as well as easing of other restrictions.

"We might see an impact on average daily numbers with midweek business levels improving if the Aussies can get here.

"Peak days will not change too much as we have not increased our capacity on the skifield.

"It would be good to see a relaxation on the rules around occupancy of indoor spaces which has really hindered us over the course of the last two seasons."

McKenzie said there was a three-week lockdown last season during one of the field's best periods of snow coverage and the risk of this happening again looks less likely this winter.

After a big investment in its state of the art eight-seater Nor' West Express chairlift last year, Mt Hutt is currently installing new TT10 snowmaking fan guns which will produce more snow in marginal weather conditions, McKenzie said.

Snow on Mt Hutt, where access to the skifield was cut off to vehicles other than snowmobiles.

The sun rises over Mt Hutt skifield. Photo: Supplied / James McKenzie

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