Repeated Covid-19 lockdowns, burst transtasman bubbles, Auckland at level 4, and "no end date" is all taking a toll on stressed out Northland tourism operators.
Eighteen months after New Zealand's borders closed due to the global pandemic, the region's tourism businesses are still in "survival mode" and grappling with the latest lockdown which has Northland at level 3 and Auckland at level 4.
Their admissions follow a recent Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey that found the mental health of tourism operators in New Zealand is under "severe pressure" with some close to breaking point.
Comments from the survey, released on Wednesday and carried out in July and August, were heavily focussed on stress, uncertainty, mental toll, fatigue, depression and financial concerns, the TIA said.
Denise Fincher, who runs Bay of Islands-based Thunder Trike Tours with her husband Mark, said tourism businesses were "struggling".
The couple has noticed some operators in the area have closed down and staff have lost their jobs.
"A lot is the unknown because there's no end date," Fincher said.
"A big part of our business is cruise ships and overseas visitors.
"If they said 2023 it'd all be good, but there's no end date. It is stressful for a lot of tourism and hospitality people."
The couple, who started their business in 2015, are getting by on savings and by utilising Government funding, but admit they've had to tighten their belts.
The transtasman travel bubble with Australia, which started in April before being burst in July, didn't make a difference, and repeated lockdowns were taking a toll, Fincher said.
"We didn't see a lot of Aussies here in Paihia. We got a couple of people but most were coming back to see family.
"We took a couple of months off which we do most years in June and July for winter. We came back in August and started getting bookings, then this lockdown happened and it went 'wham - cancel cancel, cancel'.
"People are cancelling for October because of the whole unknown."
The TIA survey found three-quarters of the 271 members surveyed were concerned about their personal health and wellbeing, with 9 per cent being very concerned.
Tourism businesses' turnover had halved and four out of 10 jobs have been lost compared to pre-Covid levels.
Thirteen respondents said their business would not be operating in six months' time, while 43 said they would be struggling to operate in six months.
TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said the findings were "sobering".
Tourism operators accept the need to protect New Zealand from Covid-19 but many owners of once thriving tourism businesses were now facing severe financial hardship, he said.
"They are part of an industry that was the first to be hit by the pandemic and will be the last to recover.
"We know some have been able to attract more domestic travellers, but many provide services and products that are specifically designed to appeal to international visitors.
"With the increasing likelihood of another summer with borders closed, some operators are close to breaking point."
TIA has 60 members based in Northland including accommodation providers, activities and attractions. Many Auckland-based members also operate tours and activities in Northland.
Rachael Biggins from Barefoot Sailing Adventures in Ōpua said it's been "definitely challenging".
"The biggest thing is we feel like we've been left in the dark a little bit. It's such a big open-ended situation that we're in.
"I've always been optimistic, but the amount of work we're doing to try and keep things moving forward is a burden in itself. Apart from the doubts we might have, the workload has increased.
"We had to do a really big pivot when Covid happened.
"People don't realise how much work is going into it. We're exhausted."
The domestic market is "keeping us going but we're really hoping for a better summer this sailing season", Biggins said.
"We're all struggling right now and we don't want to see people dropping off.
"If we're in level 2 in October but Auckland is still in level 3 we don't get to continue with business.
"If people can't pass through the borders, and a lot of families can't afford to fly, that's an extra pressure on us."
Leaders in the region have started talks on opening a safe travel corridor through Auckland for business and leisure travellers.
Far North mayor John Carter said opening up a safe travel corridor was important for food supplies, domestic tourism, and economic recovery. He expected a decision to be made "relatively soon".
Rangimarie Harding, from Tu Tika tours in Whangārei, said it's been "very challenging" since last year's Covid outbreak.
She and her husband Mervyn have scaled back the family business from full-day tours to shorter tours around Whangārei.
Business has dropped "significantly", she said.
"We're a predominately international business... it affects us more than those who can rely on the domestic market.
"We can't rely on the business financially at this current time. It's definitely survival mode for the business. Thankfully we have other part-time jobs that get us through."
Despite the challenges, Harding is optimistic.
"Because it's been so challenging, we are strained, but as long as you have good friends and whānau to support you - we'll get through this."
TIA has shared the survey findings with the Government and is working on how more mental health support can be provided to the industry.
Roberts said longer-term confidence levels were healthier, with 70 per cent of respondents expressing confidence that their businesses will be flourishing in five years' time.
"We are eagerly looking forward to the day when we can all enjoy the freedom to travel again," Roberts said.
"The most useful things we can all do right now is regularly check in on each other, and encourage everyone to get vaccinated."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.