2 Dec 2021

Hospitality sector 'devastated' after being excluded from Auckland stimulus package

9:44 am on 2 December 2021

As hospitality businesses around Auckland prepare to open to customers tomorrow for the first time in 108 days, the Restaurant Association say they are devastated after hearing the industry is excluded from the government's re-activation package for Auckland.

Krishna Botica in one of her three Asian restautants, Saan in Ponsonby.

Restaurateur Krishna Botica. Photo: RNZ/Cole Eastham-Farrelly

This summer the government is pumping $37.5 million into Auckland's economy in the hopes to bring back buzz to the city after the lengthy lockdown.

From 15 December, anyone with an Auckland postcode will be eligible to register their interest for one of 100,000 vouchers up for grabs, which will give discounts on commercial attractions and council facilities, but not hospitality.

The scheme is similar to Covid economic recovery schemes seen around the world, such as the "eat out to help out" campaign in the UK.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said she is disheartened that hospitality businesses won't be included in the new package, after pushing for months for a similar voucher system.

"We are absolutely crushed for Auckland businesses that have been closed for months on end and are left with nothing in this package. It's deeply devastating."

"My phone has been lit up this afternoon with feedback from members talking about their disappointment and feeling like they haven't been heard. It's a real blow to the morale of the community and hospitality."

She said she can't understand why they aren't included in the package as Australian hospitality was, and she wants more clarity from the prime minister.

"I think the prime minister mentioned something around having some evidence that these schemes weren't working for hospitality in the countries that they have been rolled out in and we would definitely disagree with that. In our proposals to government, we did the due diligence, we've spoken to businesses in the UK and Australia that have been participating in these sorts of programs and the response has been largely positive."

It all comes as customers look forward to dining in at their favourite restaurants and bars around the city tomorrow.

From midnight tonight the country will leave the alert level system behind for good and move into the traffic light system.

The Auckland region will move to red in the traffic light system, along with Northland, Taupō, Rotorua Lakes, Kawerau, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitīkei, Whanganui and Ruapehu districts. All other regions will enter the system in orange.

Soul Bar and Bistro commercial and events manager Olivia Carter said the industry needs more targeted support as they reopen. She said hospitality has been forgotten.

"I feel really disappointed at the support moving into red level for hospitality. I think there's a real lack of understanding of the hurt that is happening... I don't think that's really the best support that we've seen, I don't agree with it."

Under red, hospitality using vaccine certificates can open, but gathering limits will be capped at 100 people with physical distancing, masks and other public health measures used.

Restaurateur Krishna Botica said she is relieved to be opening her three restaurants and has all hands on deck getting ready for the big day.

"At the moment we have the head chef going round our three venues doing training on our new menu. And then we're reprinting menus, we are adjusting and moving tables, making sure that our distancing is right again and organising for the staff training."

"We'll be doing a lot of role playing around how to convey where we're at and how comfortable we feel with the safety."

Botica runs Cafe Hanoi, Xuxu Dumpling Bar, and Saan, and said entering their restaurants will be a smooth operation, to ensure everyone is staying safe and stopping the spread of Covid-19.

They have even hired additional staff to check vaccine certificates.

"We've got signs up asking people to please wait to be seated. We've got instructions on tables for how to pay and how to get out of the building so that we can just be mindful of that distance."

"We have to prepare for people who don't care so much about the regulations, but also people who are very anxious after being in lockdown. The best thing we can do is just to over inform and over deliver on all aspects."

Auckland central restaurant Vivace's co-owner Mandy Lusk said she has got a lot to wrap her head around before opening tomorrow.

She and her husband will be onsite at all times manning the door and checking vaccine certificates.

"We don't have spare staff at all, and some of the younger ones in particular are really nervous about it. We're going to be pretty strict about it. Please we don't choose to exclude you, but we are choosing to be able to be open and we need to be able to."

But there are concerns that business will slow up again as Aucklanders flee the city for summer.

Botica said she and many of her colleagues are worried.

"There are really big question marks around how many people will be left in Auckland and whether those people will be in our areas and dining out. There is so many unknowns, our crystal ball is just not working for January."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told First Up he believed the scheme would have flow-on benefits for hospitality.

"It was designed as a scheme that could benefit the whole region, not just a subset of businesses.

"I think they were particularly interested in how they could support families to get out and re-engage with the attractions and the events in their communities, and obviously people will be keen to do that but this is a little bit of an incentive.

"We know from experience people will go out and eat in those restaurants - we saw that last time and a dead set guarantee it'll happen again."

Auckland will move to red from 11.59pm tonight.

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