Rena still hurting business

By Sam Boyer

Dolphin-watching tour companies have once again been stung by the Rena as the busted vessel's contents are discharged into the bay.

The tourism operators were hit hardest in October, when the Rena first ran aground and exclusion zones were extended as far as the harbour entrance but things are again looking bleak for the dolphin-tour firms, as the Rena conspires to ruin what is traditionally their best time of year.

Graeme Butler, of Butler's Swim with Dolphins, said business had only just started to pick up again. Now he doesn't know what the future might hold.

"It's just an absolute horror. I don't know what the future is for us.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

"I'm quite sad for the way it's happened. I don't know what we'll do. We've got a boat to fund and employees to fund and families, but it's all looking fairly impossible. I seriously don't know what the outcome will be.

"We've been in the water here for 20 years and we've been growing and growing every year. But this has basically put us back God knows how many years. This is our busiest time of the year but it's just been stark. I've had Julys that were busier than this," he said.

The company had a respite from the Rena when the exclusion zone was reduced to three nautical miles, and had seen a brief increase in custom.

But that upturn could become a memory if the debris and oil from the shipwreck cause more maritime chaos.

"We had a couple of really good weeks, there were a lot of dolphins around. Now, with this, I would have thought there'd be a constant slick coming off the Rena for a long time. It's a shambles," he said.

Mr Butler said he admired the work the salvors had done so far, although it might not be enough to save his business.

"They've saved the Bay ... they haven't saved us," he said.

Another dolphin-tour operator, Mark Tucker, of Orca Wild Adventures, said his company would persevere with dolphin-sighting exercises in spite of the Rena's changing condition.

"It depends on the weather and where the dolphins are hanging out at the moment, [but] there's a big area we can work and we'll be keeping out of the debris. We will be going slow and keeping a good look-out," he said.

The company had tried to boost summer revenue by offering Rena sightseeing expeditions on its craft. But Mr Tucker said these had not proved particularly popular - "At this stage we haven't been too successful," he said.

However, air-borne sightseeing operators have reported seeing an upturn in business from people wanting to see the wreck.

Aerius Helicopters administrator Delanie Lockhart said the company had enjoyed an increase in business ever since the Rena ran aground with tourists and locals wanting to see the wreck, as well as media and salvors utilising their services.

"There's been a few [extra bookings]. It picks up when there's been an event but there's been enquiries the whole time," she said.

"The people who've done it have been quite impressed. It's quite a weird sight seeing a ship like that." Fixed-wing flight service SunAir said they had seen a slight increase too, but that had been mainly providing photo opportunities for the media.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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