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'Reputation at risk': NZ Backpacker and Youth Adventure Tourism Association board member Brett Duncan

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is rumoured to be making an imminent announcement
regarding working holiday and supplementary seasonal employer (SSE) visas.

While details are scant, Mountain Scene understands INZ may announce SSE visa holders can move to working holiday visas, and it may also look to extend working holiday visas to 12 months, from six.

NZ Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association (BYATA) board member Brett Duncan says if that’s true, the association — a lobby group representing the backpacker
and adventure travel industry, ‘‘so, half of Queenstown’’ — would ‘‘welcome that’’.

But, he says, that’s not going far enough to enable businesses in the Whakatipu — and
beyond — to recover from the economic impacts brought on by Covid.

Duncan, who’s also chair of NZ Hostels Association, a sub-group of the BYATA board, says the reputation of the resort, and NZ, is at risk.

‘‘There’s talk about Queenstown losing its social licence to operate, which is the buzz term
floating around at the moment.’’

‘‘Basically, it’s our reputation.

Labour shortage to erode ‘social licence’

PICTURE: GETTY

‘‘If Queenstown’s brand is damaged, it’s damaging the reputation of NZ because we are
the jewel in NZ’s crown, right?

‘‘When we can no longer operate with the quality that we’re known for having, then it be
comes detrimental to not just the town, not just the industry, but wider society.

‘‘As we’ve found out in the past 12 months, there’s a flow-on when tourism dries up.’’

BYATA’s been working with Queenstown’s council, Chamber of Commerce, Destination
Queenstown and INZ on solutions.

It recently sent off a recommendations paper to the latter, outlining 12 things the department could do to help Queenstown through this winter and, vitally, help NZ survive summer.

Duncan says it’s simply ‘‘a numbers game’’.

At present, unemployment in NZ sits at about 4.7% — that went down in the previous quarter, when it was expected to go up.

And, as of March 27, there are 5128 working holiday visa holders left in NZ.

‘‘We usually have 50,000.’’

There were 44,000 of those visa holders in Aussie as at December — and while that
number’s likely to have decreased, Duncan says it’s a pool NZ can still tap in to and BYATA
successfully lobbied, with others, to enable that to happen.

But he’s particularly keen for INZ to extend the recently-reopened working holiday visa
scheme to temporarily include people from ‘‘capped’’ countries, like Brazil, already in Australia, for example.

‘‘They can only come if they’re coming from Australia, so we’re not going to get inundated with an excess group of people, there is a finite number.’’

Another potential pool is the 15% of unemployed Aussie youth, but says part of the trouble is getting that message across the ditch.

‘‘Whose remit is it to advertise that?’’ he asks.

‘‘It’s not Tourism New Zealand’s, it’s not DQ’s remit, it’s not the chamber’s, so how do we get that message out?

‘‘Through BYATA, we’ve been trying to target Australian youth and the working holiday visa
maker foreign youth in Australia, we’ve been trying to hit all the social media channels
we can to try and raise awareness across the Tasman, but there’s only so much reach you’re going to get out of that.’’

Labour shortage this winter now inevitable

Closer to home, one audacious idea, which he believes has merit, is to allow any person
currently in NZ on a holiday visa, regardless of nationality or age, to apply for a ‘‘one-off working holiday visa’’.

‘‘We’ve got migrants here on work visas, they’ve had their parents come out and they’ve
been stuck here.

‘‘I’m sure they’d love to get a job at their little local coffee shop and whatnot.’’

He also wants to see frontline service roles in the Queenstown Lakes, like bar and wait staff, added to the low-skilled shortage list for Otago, or for INZ to apply an exemption for Queenstown Lakes allowing staff to apply for work visas for those positions.

And he wants INZ to temporarily extend the three-year limit for short-term low-paid
essential skills visas for another year.

Critically, he says, even if INZ implemented all 12 of the re commendations from BYATA,
it’s still not likely to solve the labour shortage issues this winter.

‘‘What would be fair to say is that with the pool that’s avail able to us, both in Australia and
currently still in NZ, if every measure was taken to allow these people to come on work
ing visas, it still will not be enough for this town to find the workforce it needs for this
coming winter, let alone for the wider country this summer.

‘‘[It] will affect more than just Queenstown.’’

Invite lost in the mail

Didn’t get the invite: Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi speaking in Dunedin in February. PICTURE: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi’s invitation to visit Queenstown seems to have been lost in the mail.

Or accidentally diverted into a spam folder.

Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult told Mountain Scene early last month he was extending an invite to Faafoi to visit the Whakatipu and talk to business owners and community leaders about their concerns in the face of an impending labour shortage this winter.

Six months after taking over the immigration portfolio, Scene checked in with Faafoi’s office last week to see if he’d got that invite, and if he’s coming.

A spokesman says he checked with Faafoi’s support staff and ‘‘they don’t have any record of an invitation for the minister to visit’’.

‘‘I have also checked if he has anything scheduled in the coming weeks but he doesn’t.

‘‘However, he is being regularly briefed on the situation across a range of regions and sectors, including the hospitality sector, tourism (including the ski industry), and primary
industry.’’

Scene understands Boult’s resending the invite.

‘We’re very hopeful’

NZSki’s still waiting with baited breath to see if Immigration New Zealand (INZ) will provide exemptions for four critical groomers needed for this season.

Still hopeful: NZSki boss Paul Anderson

CEO Paul Anderson says the skifield operator, which owns Queenstown’s The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, has a total of 24 snowcat groomer operators this season, including the four ‘‘very experienced’’ groomers requiring exemptions.

‘‘We have been asked for some additional information from INZ and we’ve submitted that,  so we’re sitting tight and very hopeful that we’ll get an approval very soon.’’

Anderson says part of the reason they need the overseas workers is because they’ve got nine rookies coming through this season who need to be trained.

If exemptions are granted the workers will still need to apply for visas — they take about 20 working days to pro cess — and get MIQ slots.

Coronet, at this stage, is scheduled to open in 37 days, on June 19.

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz