27 Nov 2020

From safari trips to coffee beans: leaving the tourism industry in a pandemic

6:35 pm on 27 November 2020

The world of Covid-19 has forced some people to switch their livelihoods around entirely.

Linda Calder now works at Hawthorne Coffee.

Linda Calder now works at Hawthorne Coffee. Photo: RNZ / Tim Kitchin

A Havelock North woman used to sell safari trips to Africa but now she's working as a coffee roaster.

Linda Calder, of Getaway Solutions, is one of about 17,000 women in New Zealand who left the tourism industry - far higher than the number of men.

In Africa, she was used to lions roaming around vehicles, hyenas chewing car tyres and an elephant's trunk sniffing around people's faces.

That has been replaced by the sounds and sights of coffee - the sorting of the beans, the turning of the coffee roaster and the rich, dark chocolate scent of her cafe's latest blend.

Calder's life has been turned upside down due to Covid-19.

A self-described safari travel designer, she fell in love with Africa during an OE.

She spends most of the year in Hawke's Bay, but usually travels to Africa at least once a year.

At the start of the year, things were looking bright for her safari business.

"We were heading for an amazing year, we had a huge amount of interest, we already had obviously bookings for the year and then the inquiry level was through the roof. So we were getting really excited," she said.

But as the pandemic sunk in, people put their bookings on hold and business stopped overnight.

"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," she said.

"It was really surreal actually because you just couldn't believe that everything that you poured your heart and soul into had just stopped and that yeah, there was nothing you could do about it, I think it was that feeling of just absolute hopelessness."

Linda Calder and the guides for Getaway Solutions.

Linda Calder and the guides for Getaway Solutions. Photo: Supplied / Linda Calder

As her business fell apart around her, she didn't know what would come next.

"I put my head very much in the sand like an ostrich and you'd sit there, and you'd have Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting with everyone around the world.

"There were some days I didn't want to get out of bed and you just really wanted to cry all day, and then it was like 'well actually, you know, we don't know when the end of this is' and I'm not very good A - feeling sorry for myself or B - being idle so it was like 'okay what's next?'"

Luck fell her way. A friend working at Hawthorne Coffee in Havelock North went on maternity leave and asked Calder if she was interested in taking over.

She is now Hawthorne's production manager - pulling together coffee orders, so the roasters know how much coffee they're producing and where it's going around the country.

"I'm always learning, so I've had to up skill and do things like payroll and office management things that I didn't know how to do."

She was also learning a lot about coffee.

"I had absolutely no idea about the coffee industry and ... how much coffee people drink! We move a huge amount of kilos - kilos and kilos and kilos - of beans around the country everyday and the science behind it, it really is, it's really similar to a wine maker."

Calder is one of about 20,000 people in New Zealand whose tourism career fell apart due to Covid - according to data comparing the quarter around September this year to last year.

Stats NZ said women were disproportionately affected - only around 3000 of those 20,000 were men.

While these are seasonal industries, Stats NZ said the size of this fall was unusual and likely related to Covid.

Calder said she was liking her new life at the local coffee joint, but she was just as keen to return to safaris - and was already getting asked about when they would restart.

"I think that it will be a slow reintroduction to safaris and I mean, I've had a couple of inquiries about people saying what do you think and I'd love to say 'absolutely let's go'."

"But I think that whole thing about having to do quarantine for us at the end and having to pay for it really shuts that down for a lot of New Zealand travellers."

For now, it's back to the coffee - before she can get out on the road again to the elephants, lions and hyenas in the African desert.

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