The first long weekend after the Covid-19 lockdown has given some Northland businesses a much-needed boost but fears remain about the future with international tourists unlikely to return any time soon.
Russell in particular was teeming with visitors during Queen's Birthday Weekend. Hotels were fully booked and some shop owners were as busy as a weekend in mid-summer.
Elsewhere, such as Whangārei and Kerikeri, business was a mixed bag, especially after heavy rain set in on Sunday.
For some business owners it was their first real chance to try turning towards Kiwi holiday-makers.
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Paihia Dive owner Craig Johnston led a trip out to the Canterbury wreck on Monday though diver numbers were limited by social distancing rules.
The customers were a 50-50 mix of locals, from Whangārei and Auckland, and international travellers who had waited out the lockdown in New Zealand.
Johnston was happy to be taking people out diving again but said he'd have to refocus his business on the domestic market to survive.
''We're going from 4 million international travellers to an estimated 1-1.2m Kiwis planning on travelling domestically, so we're going to have to make do on 25 per cent. It's going to be challenging so the more Kiwis that get out there and explore, the better.''
While overseas visitors were keen on wreck and scenic dives, he was planning to offer hunter-gatherer trips and spear-fishing charters to cater to Kiwi divers. Fullers GreatSights resumed Hole in the Rock cruises on Saturday with a reduced rate targeting New Zealand travellers.
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Operations manager Barry Nielson said numbers on the three weekend trips had to be capped due to Covid-19 level 2 regulations but staff were pleased to be showcasing the Bay of Islands again. Most passengers were domestic tourists.
''It was really positive to see the town alive and buzzing again and to see hotel and motel carparks full of vehicles,'' he said.
The Bay's other dominant cruise operator, Explore, has yet to resume sailings.
Few establishments had as good a weekend as the Duke of Marlborough. The historic hotel was fully booked from Friday to Sunday. The hotel returned to seven-day operation on Monday.
Co-owner Riki Kinnaird said revenue was on par with the same time last year but now almost 100 per cent of guests were domestic travellers, mostly from Auckland. Helen Cooper, co-owner of clothing and homeware store Bay of Islands Trading Co in Russell, said every day of the long weekend surpassed expectations.
''It was really busy. It felt like a weekend in February,'' she said.
''We hope it's an indication of what weekends will be like in winter. Obviously they won't be as big but if we can do reasonable business on Saturday and Sunday during winter that will get us through to summer.''
Meanwhile, it was the first big weekend of Kerikeri's Old Packhouse Market, with up to 900 customers on Saturday and 300 on Sunday.
However, Covid-19 rules allowing only 100 people in at a time led to queues stretching across the carpark.
Co-owner Judy Hyland hoped next weekend would be the last under level 2 limits.
She was optimistic about the future but without international tourists she did not expect customer numbers would return to the levels of last summer.
In some quarters, however, future prospects are grim, with Northland's biggest hotel operator laying off large numbers of staff.
Millennium Hotels, which owns the Copthorne at Waitangi and Ōmāpere as well as the Kingsgate in Paihia, announced last week it was shedding more than 70 per cent of its workforce, or about 910 jobs, across the country.
The Advocate has asked how many staff will be affected in Northland but had not had a response at edition time yesterday.
The Copthorne Hotel in Waitangi is closed with reopening due by October 1. The Copthorne Hokianga is open while the Kingsgate is offering reduced services.
Northland Camber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith said some businesses, such as the Duke, did ''extremely well'' but across Northland the weekend was a mixed bag.
Whangārei cafes appeared to be busy on Saturday but emptied out when torrential rain hit on Sunday.
Retail sales had increased in Northland since the end of level 3 due to pent-up demand — shoppers buying things they couldn't get during lockdown — and people practising ''retail therapy''.
It was not yet clear what the new normal would be.
''But in the next week or two, as winter sets in, the overall spend will decline, unfortunately,'' Smith said.
Reasons for optimism included a Government-funded campaign to promote domestic tourism in the regions and plans by sporting codes such as football to bring major fixtures to Northland, boosting demand at hotels and restaurants.
On July 8 the Chamber would hold a Super-BA5 (business after 5) event, most likely in Russell, focused on Covid recovery in the tourism and hospitality industries, he said.