18 Jan 2022

Fears Northland businesses will close without targeted financial support

10:18 am on 18 January 2022

Northlanders are calling for specific regional financial support to keep businesses open and people employed after a quiet peak summer season.

Russell in Te Tai Tokerau/Northland.

Russell in Te Tai Tokerau/Northland. Photo: 123RF

Northland is the only region still in the red traffic light setting, and some say the Auckland border - which opened in mid December - put tourists off travelling to the area.

One tourism operator said being cut off from the rest of the country had been really tough, and business support would be a smart investment for the government.

The Duke of Marlborough hotel in tourist hot-spot Russell has had fewer domestic tourists than usual. Co-owner Riki Kinnaird said that had hit them in the pocket.

"With the red traffic light restrictions, and the noise around the roadblocks, meant we're probably 30-35 percent down in trade," Kinnaird said.

Continued uncertainty about the region's future traffic light setting means 10 weddings they had booked have been cancelled, he said. Other uncertainties with Waitangi Day and other events have them on edge.

"It's day-by-day, which means it's really hard to plan, and anxiety levels are high. Actually some people will go broke over this period of time," Kinnaird said.

Russell has certainly been quieter, he said, and motel owner Penny Boles thought nearby Paihia was quieter than it usually is over the Christmas/New Year period.

Dive Tutukaka director Jeroen Jongejans said they have been about as busy as last summer, but only because other dive companies have closed in the meantime.

Northland was quieter while Auckland was locked down, and as a result some businesses closed for good, Jongejans said.

"When we had the wage subsidies, that made a difference, but that's all gone now. So unless something specific is around in support for Northland tourism businesses, I can see a number of them will close and a number of jobs will just have to go," Jongejans said.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be a while before international tourists are back, Jongejans said.

In the meantime an investment to keep struggling businesses open - and Northlanders in employment - is needed.

"If we don't provide that support for those businesses ... once those businesses are gone, it's really difficult to set up that infrastructure again.

"So a bit of specific targeted support is actually a really smart move."

Far North Mayor John Carter agreed.

"We've been economically shut off for the last five months, and that needs to be recognised," Carter said.

"There are certainly some of our business and community people that do need some specialist support, and we'll be making those points to our government representatives."

Despite fears that a horde of Aucklanders travelling into the region would bring Covid-19, there have been very few cases in Northland over the holiday period.

And no one in Northland has been in hospital with Covid-19 since November.

Police said there was very high compliance with the Auckland-Northland border requirements - to be vaccinated or show a recent negative test.

They did not hand out any fines for breaches at the checkpoints and spot checks, but a "handful" of cars were turned around at the checkpoints which ran from 15 to 19 December.

Cabinet is expected to meet this week to review the traffic light settings for all regions.

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