The mental health of tourism operators is under severe pressure, a new survey has found.
Three-quarters of respondents to the Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey were concerned about their personal health and wellbeing, with 9 per cent being very concerned.
Respondents were heavily focused on stress, uncertainty, mental toll, fatigue, depression and financial concerns.
Overall, the survey found that tourism businesses' turnover has halved (down 48 per cent) and four out of 10 jobs have been lost compared to pre-Covid levels. Four out of five businesses were operating below pre-Covid levels and 5 per cent of respondents said they won't be operating in the next six months.
The online survey of 271 business owners was carried out in July and August, just before the latest lockdown.
It was released today by TIA chief executive Chris Roberts during an industry webinar held to mark the day when Tourism Summit Aotearoa was scheduled in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.
"The findings of this survey are sobering," he said.
"Our team was quite concerned and quite moved by some of the verbatim responses that came in."
It was the first time TIA had surveyed members specifically about health and
"It is very worrying that a third of respondents (35 per cent) are moderately or very concerned about their own mental health."
Tourism operators accepted the need to protect New Zealanders from Covid-19 but many owners of once-thriving tourism businesses are now facing severe financial hardship. They are part of an industry that once vied with dairy to be the country's number one foreign exchange earner but became the first to be hit by the pandemic and will be the last to recover.
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," said Roberts.
The current alert level restrictions, while necessary, have stopped domestic tourism, adding to the existing stresses reported in this survey.
About 16 per cent said they would be struggling to operate in six months.
However, longer-term confidence levels are healthier, with 70 per cent of respondents expressing confidence that their businesses will be flourishing in five years' time compared to just 11 per cent not being confident.
Among verbatim responses from operators were:
• We have had to reduce our prices to meet the local market, and we don't have the international visitors who were a large part of our market.
• The biggest issue is that we need a profit margin that allows us to invest - invest in assets and staff. This will not be possible while the borders remain closed.
• Very difficult to find staff to a point that when staff are sick we are having to reduce the activity options we can sell.
• Currently not in a position to hold my staff and once business restarts, won't have trained people to work in the business.
• Essentially that this is a marathon not a sprint. Visitation has been very pleasing (with some amazing results) but there is no indication this will continue, making it tricky to plan, aside from rolling forecasts.
• We have changed our product offering completely to cater to the domestic market. 50 per cent of our products were not appropriate for domestic visitors. The challenge is knowing what is going to happen for the future, and I guess there is no fix for this.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash spoke at the webinar and said the lockdown was the latest blow to the sector which had been experiencing a strong recovery.
He said $4.5 million had already been allocated in five hard-hit South Island regions for mental health support in the tourism sector.
The key to reconnecting with the world and welcoming back tourists was a high rate of vaccination, he said.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who also addressed the event, said there was uncertainty over a return to a medium volume of overseas visitors returning and he was most worried about how the virus may evolve.
However, he said New Zealand was continuing to buy itself time with an elimination strategy and if the current outbreak was successfully stamped out the country would be in a strong position in six months' time to have options when it came to deciding what path it would follow next.
Baker said he expected proof of vaccination and mask use to be a feature of life for operating businesses in future.
Where to get help
If you are worried about your mental health or someone else's, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111. Or if you need to talk to someone else:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans: 0800 726 666.