No respite: A near-empty Queenstown Mall at 4pm on Wednesday


A Queenstown accountant and business adviser compares the lack of government direction
on any plan to open a border with Australia as ‘‘like being a farmer in a never-ending drought’’.

Findex’s Duncan Fea, who’s advising businesses through the toughest economic period they’ve ever experienced, says the only certainty for them is ‘‘the uncertainty’’.

That, he says, is ‘‘also the breaking of resilience’’.

Fea says it’s been tough for him and his colleagues dealing with people on the cusp of  losing their life’s work.

‘‘We’ve got to have truthful and honest discussions, with a balance of empathy and understanding, but it is what it is.

‘‘The future is uncertain, therefore, what is the alternative?’’

While there’s ‘‘obvious pain’’ in tourism, hospitality and accommodation sectors, Fea understands some larger operators are also looking at their options.

‘‘We’re all reviewing the business models and what we can do to survive, whether it’s hiber
nation or reviewing the whole business viability.’’

‘‘All of those are very confronting and very real, and we don’t see any respite on the horizon at all, do we?

‘‘Everything you’re reading and seeing is play ing out, and it’s playing out in Queenstown.’’

In some ways, however, it’s like a tale of two towns.

Fea says the flip side to the industries which have been brought to their knees is construction and related industries, which are going gang-busters.

‘‘If you turn up and you turn right past Queenstown Airport at the BP roundabout, you’d probably think everything’s going well — house prices are going well and it looks busy and … building and construction and trades are rocking along.

‘‘If you turn left and come into town, it’s … a real problem.’’

Fea believes while there will be more casualties, the community will carry on, cut its cloth and do the best it can, before ‘‘we go again’’.

Rising calls for the government to provide clarity, direction

“It’s tough”: Findex accountant and business adviser Duncan Fea

Fea’s fear, however, is the long-term effects of the global pandemic on small-to medium  local, Kiwi-owned businesses in the Whakatipu.

‘‘We are seeing closures already, and if these perpetuate, then there’s no guarantee [they] will ever come back.

‘‘I think that’s the biggest concern that we have.

‘‘That’s really backed up further by the lack of government understanding or acknowledgment and plan.’’

Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult’s also calling for some certainty and direction from the government, admitting he’s finding the current situation ‘‘frustrating’’.

‘‘The end will come.

‘‘People will start coming back here … it will be different, but what I’m saying to [government] is ‘you’ve got to help us bridge the gap between where we are now and the return of tourism’.

‘‘If I sound a bit depressed it’s because I’m thinking of all the folk going through really hard
times at present.

‘‘It’s not just Queenstown and Wanaka.

‘‘It’s Te Anau, it’s the glacier towns, all tourism places.

‘‘I’ve had emails from operators all around the country saying, ‘we’re in the same boat’.’’

Frustrated: Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult

Boult says if, for example, businesses knew there was a 90% chance the Covid vaccine would have been rolled out across New Zealand and Australia by October and that would signal the opening of a trans-Tasman bubble, they could plan for that and make further adjustments to see if they could hold on till then.

‘‘But they just don’t know.

‘‘Everybody is desperate for some certainty.

‘‘I have lived here for 39 years and I’ve just never seen anything like the pressure that this community is under at the present time.

‘‘Everywhere I go … people are coming up to me and telling me they’re struggling.

‘‘I undertook … a year ago to bust my backside to take our community through this.

‘‘I remain absolutely committed to that, but I’m finding it really frustrating.’’