14 Sep 2020

Domestic travel restrictions 'killing us' - Queenstown mayor

11:12 am on 14 September 2020

While South Island mayors are hoping to move to level 1, North Island mayors are depending on advice from health experts.

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Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Getting visitors into Queenstown and Nelson has been identified as critical for both South Island cities, where tourism and hospitality is a lifeblood.

Local leaders want restrictions around seating on domestic flights loosened, and quickly.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said she would like to see the restrictions on domestic flights addressed.

"We have got 50 percent of our seats unable to be filled. At the moment with 42 flights a day going Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch - for most days this week you can't get a seat in or out. It is pretty desperate for us and we need to get those families moving before the school holidays."

She said it was the town's number one priority and there was a need of direction from the government.

The cash injection that comes with school holidays would help tourism businesses survive till Christmas.

"They're hanging on. Our unemployment rate is already moving up to 8000 across the top of the South Island."

She warned if businesses were to collapse further, unemployment numbers were bound to go up.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult is also hoping for an ease on restrictions for domestic flights.

He was advised about 1500 travellers were expected to visit Queenstown two weeks ago but could not due to lack of seats on flights.

"I understand what's intended with this," he said, but added that people were in close proximity while boarding and disembarking.

"I just don't see the point in leaving half the seats unoccupied."

He and the airline industry had explained it to the government, he said.

"This is killing us. We need every visitor we can get. I mean JetStar won't even fly at this time because it is simply uneconomic."

Boult said the South Island had been wanting to move to alert level 1 for a while.

It was a matter of surviving financially with some exposure to risk, he said.

Alert levels advice should come from health experts, not politicians - North Island mayors

Taupō Mayor David Trewavas said businesses there were looking positive for the school holidays but what waiting until the announcement this afternoon of a possible alert level review.

Taupō Mayor David Trewavas with Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern during her election campaign on 10 September, 2020.

Taupō Mayor David Trewavas. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He said the town was reachable by about 3 million people.

"It's been good but would be great to have a slightly lower level ... [so] people would be more confident to travel. They can't go overseas, we welcome them with open arms to Taupō."

People were complying and wearing masks on public transport, he said.

"I reckon we need to move back down a level ... we'll leave it to the health experts."

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said unemployment was 50 percent up from last year.

He said younger people were among the majority to have lost jobs, and more women and men.

Neil Holdom.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"It is a concern but we're not urging the government to take steps that aren't prudent, because it is clear that we haven't quite stamped out this latest outbreak."

The billions that the country had put in the Covid response was too expensive to risk, he said. "We've invested so much, and it's our children that are going to be paying off this debt."

He said moving through alert levels came down to the data and advice from health professionals.

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