Hanging on by a thread: The Mall in Queenstown's CBD yesterday afternoon


Queenstown tourism businesses propped up by government wage subsidies lose their lifeline from tomorrow, despite ongoing Covid travel restrictions.

Queenstown qualified for subsidies while Auckland was in Alert Level 4 or, latterly, Level 3, however that’s being replaced by a traffic light system.

Aucklanders can travel here from December 15, but they’re not expected in big numbers,
while overseas visitors can’t come till April 30, and only after an unpalatable seven days’
isolation in New Zealand.

For small businesses reliant on the wage subsidy and resurgence payments, losing them is ‘‘devastating’’, local Chamber of Commerce CEO Ruth Stokes says.

Champions of the World retailer Miles Wilson says as Aucklanders are in lockdown till the 15th, technically the government’s reneged on its commitment by pulling the subsidy sooner.

And given businesses like his used to rely on 90% foreign visitors, ‘‘we’re effectively in lockdown while our international borders are closed’’.

Tourist towns ‘just been dumped’ by govt

Nomad Safaris’ David Gatward-Ferguson says the wage subsidy’s been ‘‘absolutely essential’’ since the August lockdown — ‘‘our business has since been trading appallingly with probably less than 1% of our pre-Covid level of business’’.

‘‘[The subsidy’s] allowed us to keep the team who were still with us together.’’

And because pre-Christmas ‘‘is not a travelling time … that’s going to cost [his wife] Amanda and me a lot ’cos we will have to fully fund everyone’s wages with almost zero income’’.

‘‘We’re coming into a dark period’’.

He feels Queenstown and other tourist towns have ‘‘just been dumped’’ by the government.

Hilton hotelier Chris Ehmann says the wage subsidy’s been ‘‘incredibly helpful’’.

Challenging times: Hilton general manager Chris Ehmann

‘‘It will certainly be challenging without that continuing,’’ especially as he’d not seen many Aucklanders booking yet, and he feels isolation requirements will deter overseas visitors.

Queenstown Taxis boss Grant Scannell says with his drivers having lost 60 to 70% of their
income, on average, the weekly $600 top-up definitely helped.

While losing it will ‘‘knock them for another six’’, at least there’ll be work dos and Christmas parties to give them patron age for the next few weeks, he adds.

‘‘But come the end of January, early February, it’s going to be bloody tough.’’

“Bloody tough”: Queenstown Taxis boss Grant Scannell

The wage subsidy and other financial support had been ‘‘absolutely critical’’, business events operator, HQ New Zealand’s Rob Stewart-McDonald says.

However, with no business till February, ‘‘we will lose $50,000 a month’’.

He believes the government has no conception of his sector’s long lead times.

‘‘I’m not sure how we’re supposed to pay our staff.’’

Mayor Jim Boult confirms he asked Tourism Minister Stuart Nash on Tuesday about the possibility of extending the wage subsidy for Queenstown.

Nash committed to him that he’d raise the issue with Finance Minister Grant Robertson.