4 May 2020

Taranaki tourism operators welcome slight upturn after lockdown

6:44 pm on 4 May 2020

Accommodation providers in Taranaki are seeing signs that domestic tourism could help them recover from the devastation caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus.

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Mt Taranaki. Photo: Andy Jackson/ 123rf

With the international border closed for the foreseeable future, some operators say New Zealanders are already starting to make enquiries about bookings for next summer.

Jo Bourke, founder of Bach Break which manages 90 holiday homes in Taranaki, said her business was overwhelmed with cancellations when international flights stopped and the lockdown was announced last month.

"Originally when we first got notification that we were going into lockdown we immediately lost 95 percent of our bookings.

"So that put us in a really vulnerable position and I was very concerned about what the future holds and went through all kinds of different emotions over that."

Bourke said the business had turned a corner over the last couple of days, and she could see light at the end of the tunnel.

"So, we've got guests who are looking at making summer bookings and starting to think about what the summer holds for them. So, domestic tourism.

"And companies that will have essential workers coming into New Plymouth and they are wanting properties - some of our portfolio - for potentially up to two to three months. So it's good to have a little bit of interest and see a little bit of confidence return."

Bourke said summer bookings were now sitting at about 40 percent of capacity.

Peter and Rosemary Tennent own New Plymouth's largest hotel and conference centre - the Devon.

Tennent said the business model at the 102-bed hotel had been turned on its head.

"All major conferences, national and international conferences for this year have obviously been cancelled and numbers in-house have... the cancellations have come thick and fast.

"It's literally a totally different model. We were employing a staff of well over 100 and we now have team looking after the guests and operating right through."

At its low point, the Devon had only five guests - all essential workers or people in self-isolation.

Tennent said he was working on a plan to bounce back.

"What we are working very hard to make happen is that the conferences that were booked this year are rolled over so that instead of waiting another 10 or 12 years for those conferences to hit Taranaki, we're rolling them over so that the 2020 conferences are happening in 2021.

"We are working very hard with the 2021 conferences so that they don't roll over to 2022."

Tennent said he was confident Taranaki was in a good position to recover faster than many other regions.

Venture Taranaki chief executive Justine Gilliland said international visitors only accounted for 20 percent of the tourism spend in the province and it was an industry primed to rebound quickly.

Gilliland said a Go Local campaign was already in the works to support the tourism and hospitality sectors.

"So that's, first of all, about our own people in our region getting out and about. Perhaps there's experiences in Taranaki that you've always meant to get out and do, but you haven't quite had the chance.

"And then we'll be looking to launch that as a more national campaign, quite targeted at the kind of visitors that we want to attract into our region to hopefully spend some cash."

Gilliland said there was however no sugar-coating the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis on Taranaki.

"In terms of employment we are looking at shedding potentially 5500 jobs which is quite a significant number obviously - over 9 percent of our workforce - and unemployment could rise to more than 10 percent.

"Of particular concern under that is the impact on Māori and also other vulnerable people who are always the more impacted in these types of scenarios."

A report prepared for Venture Taranaki by economic research company Infometrics anticipated the province would experience an 8.5 percent contraction in growth for the 12 months through to March next year.

This was slightly worse than the 8 percent drop forecast nationally.

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