Covid-19's being described as Queenstown's ''economic earthquake''.
As one resort hotelier says occupancy's falling off a cliff, a major hotel's about to
mothball indefinitely (click here) and another CBD hospo business has temporarily shuts its doors, community leaders are bracing for the worst impact yet from the global pandemic.
Put simply, businesses in the Queenstown Lakes, Te Anau/Fiordland and the West Coast are in desperate need of cashflow and, without it, there are fears the southern region — long used by 'NZ Inc' to market the country internationally, and responsible for major GDP injections to the national economy over many years — will end up as ghost towns.
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult's been defending the Whakatipu, and its neighbouring tourism towns, for months against Kiwi vitriol, questioning why the area should be ''singled out'' for special treatment.
''Now is our time of need,'' he says.
''We have contributed to NZ way above what would be expected of a small community, and now we need some help.
''For anybody who's critical of Queenstown, OK, lots of parts of NZ have needed a hand in the past, now it's our time.
''Ours is an economic earthquake.''
He's been talking to Tourism Minister Stuart Nash — who's expected to come to Queenstown next month to talk about the ''dire'' situation businesses are now in.
They've been ''hanging on by the skin of their teeth'', Boult says, doing ''everything they can to stay alive''.
''But the feedback I'm getting from a large number of businesspeople around town now is they're at the end of their tether and unless they had some confidence that we were going to get a tourism bubble with Australia, say, by April, there's a high degree of concern for their ability to stay viable.''
And that bubble's looking less and less likely.
Both Boult and Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chair Craig Douglas say they'd be surprised to see any trans-Tasman bubble by winter.
Boult: ''I have raised the issue [with Nash] for the need for assistance for this part of the world and said, without the Australian bubble, the industry will need assistance.
''I'm not talking about Queenstown alone, I'm talking about the wider region.
''A decision, a way forward, is urgent.
''I'm not crying Henny Penny here and saying, 'the sky's going to fall in tomorrow', but I'm saying we can see the cracks.
''Without some surety, operators will start to fail.''
While few could argue many businesses had been successful for many years, Boult says regardless of ''how fat your bank balance is'', almost 12 months after the beginning of lockdown, cash reserves are all but gone for most.
Douglas says there was a ''sugar rush'' for many businesses last year during school holidays, but similar numbers didn't eventuate, as hoped, over Christmas and New Year — not helped by torrential rain at the start of the year during the peak holiday period.
''Queenstown's a town that survives on its reputation, so whatever ends up in the media is how people view the town.
''We want to sell the dream and [Destination Queenstown] is fabulous at presenting the dream, but the reality is, we're really in trouble.''
He says the ''tragedy'' of the situation is Queenstown businesses have survived till now on ''a little bit of life support'' from the government and ''a lot of self-administered life support from their owners and shareholders''.
''The businesses have shown incredible resilience to get this far, but there comes a time when the capital runs out and the businesses will close and they will fold.
''The fears we had some months ago are starting to eventuate.''
Both believe a wage subsidy-type system for those areas reliant on tourism, and buckling under the stress of closed borders, should be given further consideration by government.
Based on 2020's wage subsidy extension, for which businesses had to show a 30% reduction in turnover to qualify, Boult says he thinks most businesses in town would qualify.
If the government can't, or won't, provide additional support, ''the consequences will be pretty dire for this part of the world''.
- Mountain Scene