By Philip Chandler of Mountain Scene
The couple who made Queenstown's Shotover Jet world-famous are devastated owner Ngai Tahu Tourism is bailing out.
The big corporate last week announced it is closing its tourism businesses, including Shotover Jet and Glenorchy's Dart River Jet, "for the time being", due to Covid-19's toll on tourism.
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Queenstowners Heather and Trevor Gamble, who owned Shotover Jet for 16 years, till 1986, accuse Ngai Tahu Tourism of caring only for the bottom line.
"They're not looking after Queenstown or their staff," says Trevor, who turned Shotover Jet into a thrilling, iconic jetboat ride.
"They're not helping the regeneration of tourism."
Heather says they were "devastated" to hear the news.
"I think I cried.
"It was our baby, our lives, our family, everything.
"Queenstown helped us, and we helped Queenstown."
In contrast to today's owners, Heather says they never thought about giving up.
"We had really tough times."
Veteran local harbourmaster Marty Black is also disappointed that Ngai Tahu Tourism is pulling anchor – "I just think it's a major mistake".
"Other [jetboat] operators I've spoken to around the country, they want to get going in Level 2, and they'll survive."
Black says he admires how Ngai Tahu Tourism has invested into both local jetboat operations over the years, and their safety track records.
But he's upset so many experienced staff face losing their jobs.
He notes Shotover, in particular, stands to lose drivers uniquely trained to boat the hazardous Shotover River canyons.
"They do 120 hours' training, the [industry] rule is 50."
Recommencing operations, if those drivers aren't around any longer, won't be easy, he says.
Also lost is at least $500,000 Shotover pays the local council each year in return for exclusive rights to boat this stretch of river.