School trips are being cancelled, sports are on hold, events have been postponed, meetings have been iced, shopping restrictions are in place and local tourism operators face a nervous wait ahead while the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation continues to unfold.

Panic buying at local supermarkets has seen shelves emptied a range of products, with rice, pasta, flour, tea and UHT milk in hot demand. Pak'nSave Taupō released a statement on its Facebook page on Wednesday morning saying it was implementing purchasing limits on some items so that everybody in the community had access to their share of grocery items.

Empty pasta shelves at Pak'n Save Taupō.
Empty pasta shelves at Pak'n Save Taupō.

School sports, some trips and assemblies have been cancelled although local schools remain open. There was disappointment for the 550 entrants in this weekend's IronMāori event in Taupo which was due to be held on Saturday after it was called off. Other upcoming events to be cancelled include the Children's Day picnic, EasterFest, the McQuilkin Cup, events at the Taupō Library, some shows at the Great Lake Centre and some council meetings.

Taupō District Council chief executive Gareth Green says plans are being put in place to ensure essential services would be kept operating should the community and council staff be widely affected.

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Destination Great Lake Taupō general manager Jane Wilson says Covid-19 is a challenging and unprecedented time for the local tourism industry which is making it difficult for forward planning.

"We are seeing a significant number of cancellations in the short term and certainly longer term advance bookings have dried up."

A domestic marketing campaign which Destination Great Lake Taupō was to begin this week has been temporarily paused as it reviews activity and campaign messaging. Tourism NZ has also suspended all overseas marketing campaign activity for the time being.

Destination Great Lake Taupō general manager Jane Wilson. Photo / File
Destination Great Lake Taupō general manager Jane Wilson. Photo / File

Tourism is a major contributor to the Taupō district and is the number one contributor to local GDP. It is the largest employer in the region, providing the equivalent of over 6000 fulltime jobs, or 34 per cent of the total workforce.

Jane says the best thing there are plenty of things locals can do right now to help keep businesses afloat and save local jobs.

"This is absolutely the time for our community to support each other - to shop locally, to contract local businesses and if you were planning a holiday overseas use that money to holiday at home.

"Taupō has world class tourism experiences right here on our doorstep – get out and appreciate what we have on offer and support our local operators.

"They need your help now so that as a community we are in a position to bounce back strongly when this is over."

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Local tourism operator Tongariro Expeditions is already seeing the effect of Covid-19 disruption with cancellations from overseas visitors arriving daily.

Owner Mandy Thomas says it is mainly visitors from Europe and the USA who are cancelling bookings, and those are just the organised people who have booked ahead. Many people do not book a ride to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing until the day before, so an unknown number of bookings would be lost too.

"It's a bizarre time because it [the virus] is not really here yet so it's difficult to plan ahead."

Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle operator Tongariro Expeditions says overseas visitors have been cancelling bookings from March 20 onwards but indicating they will rebook in late spring. Photo / File
Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle operator Tongariro Expeditions says overseas visitors have been cancelling bookings from March 20 onwards but indicating they will rebook in late spring. Photo / File

She said many of those who had cancelled had indicated they planned to postpone their trip to New Zealand until later in the year and expected that if things had returned to normal, late spring and summer would be busy.

Mandy says for New Zealanders who have always intended to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but been put off by the crowds, now is a good time to go, with numbers of overseas visitors on the walk expected to drop from next week.

On Monday he should have been winging his way to his overseas experience with his girlfriend. But coronavirus disruption has seen 24-year-old Kale Grahame moving back to Taupō to stay with his parents Steve and Debbie Grahame.

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The design engineer, who says he may as well be a qualified mechanic, is now spending his days at dad Steve's garage McPhail Grahame Motors. Kale and girlfriend Elly Van der Laan, 22, were both living in Te Awamutu, with Kale working in Hamilton and Elly working as a research technician. Elly has gone to live with her parents in Hamurana, in Rotorua.

"We finished our jobs in mid January, to give us enough time to get rid of our vehicles and belongings and were due to fly out on Monday," said Kale.

It was 18 months in the planning, but on Monday afternoon they made the decision to cancel. He said both sets of parents had very strong, but opposing opinions on whether the young couple should go ahead with their trip or not.

"On Monday Elly and I sat down and got a good [big] news intake to see what the world was doing and made the hard decision," said Kale.

Their intended flights were from Thailand via Sydney, then to and from Vietnam, onto Dubai and then into Elly's country of birth, the Netherlands. After travelling through Scandinavia they were heading to Tipperary, Ireland with Kale having a one-year visa and Elly intent on finding a farming job.

"It was a big multi-buy, and when Elly was buying the tickets she accidentally clicked on the insurance button 'cancel for any reason up to 24 hours beforehand'. It was quite a bit more expensive and she felt really bad about it. But we should have known it was for a reason," said Kale

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Thanks to Elly's mistaken click, the couple can claim back 80 per cent of the cost of the tickets. Kale says they are reviewing their situation in a month's time, although he isn't confident things will be any better by then.

Information for businesses

■ Destination Great Lake Taupō is holding a local tourism industry webinar on Thursday evening at 5.30pm alongside Enterprise Great Lake Taupō. People interested in attending can register at mailchi.mp/lovetaupo/industry-update-covid-19.

■ Enterprise Great Lake Taupō has launched an information portal (taupo.biz/planning) to assist businesses navigate through this challenging period. This includes information on financial support, business operations, employment matters and details of the new Government Support package, including fact sheets and forms.