By PHILIP CHANDLER
A Queenstown hotel has stayed open throughout the Covid-19 lockdown just to look after – for free – a treasured Belgian guest.
Luce Wilsens, 89, has been staying at Kamana Lakehouse – formerly Aspen Hotel – for all but one of the past 30 years.
Wilsens’ flight back home to Switzerland last month was cancelled the day before, as airlines grounded planes due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Kamana general manager Mario Sandulescu says they decided to let her stay through the lockdown, even though the hotel was otherwise shut, “because we knew how fragile she is, and we knew that moving her would be such a big problem”.
The hotel kept on three staff, including a chef and front office manager, to look after her.
“We didn’t keep it open to make money,” Sandulescu says.
“We haven’t charged her any money, but after the lockdown we need to – it’s a lifeline for us, as well.”
Wilsens says the hotel’s been very kind to her – “they have really spoilt me”.
Though she could have taken a plane back to Switzerland in July, she’s decided to stay on and experience her first Queenstown winter.
That’s because there’s a good chance she’d not have been able to come back here in September in time to celebrate both her 90th birthday and 30th anniversary of first coming here, with her local friends.
She’ll now not leave for home till next April.
Ironically, Immigration New Zealand had initially wanted her out of the country in December, after making it impossibly tough for her to extend a three-month visitor’s visa.
However, after lobbying from local MP Hamish Walker, Queenstown friends, two AWS Legal lawyers and Mountain Scene, it changed its mind.
It did an about-face and granted her a two-year visitor visa.