The "no vacancy" sign has gone up at some Bay of Islands hotels this Queen's Birthday weekend, giving the hard-hit hospitality industry a badly needed post-lockdown boost.
This weekend's bookings have been so encouraging that Russell's Duke of Marlborough, one of Northland's most historic hotels, will go back to opening seven days a week on Monday for the first time since the Covid-19 crisis hit.
Co-owner Riki Kinnaird said the hotel was booked out Friday to Sunday and forward bookings for June were on a par with last year.
He put that down to Aucklanders and Northlanders with ''itchy feet and cabin fever'' making the most of the first long weekend since the lockdown.
''People have started getting out, shaking the cobwebs off and supporting local businesses. It's really encouraging.''
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Another factor in the Duke's favour this weekend was that two of the biggest hotels in the Bay — the Copthorne in Waitangi and the Scenic in Paihia — had closed temporarily so there were fewer rooms to go around.
Boat tour company Explore was also in hibernation but Fullers had resumed some of its cruises and most local activity providers were back in business.
The Duke's restaurant was open but level 2 restrictions meant it was limited to 100 people at a time when it usually did more than 150 at a sitting.
Kinnaird said he was ''really encouraged'' by strong bookings for the next four to six weeks but still scared about the future, in particular whether the hotel could get its core staff through to mid-October.
Normally the Duke reduced its workforce in May but this year that was brought forward to the end of March when 45 workers lost their jobs.
A core team of 50 staff had been kept on at the Duke and Charlotte's Kitchen in Paihia with help from the Government subsidy.
''We were sh***ing ourselves [at the start of the Covid crisis] and we are better off than most. We have a good product, a good brand and cash reserves — and we were still sh***ing ourselves,'' Kinnaird said.
''Now we are still anxious but we can see a pathway. If we can get through to mid-October we're okay for this year. Then we'll have time to work out what the new normal is.''
The Copthorne Hotel and Resort at Waitangi, the biggest hotel in the Far North, is due to reopen at the latest on October 1.