The looming threat of an Omicron outbreak is behind an "abrupt stop" in retail spending, Rotorua retailers believe.
While some retailers experienced a busy start to summer, others say retail spending has plummeted.
The head of Retail NZ Greg Harford said, anecdotally, spending in Rotorua had been relatively strong over the festive season.
"While that has been positive for retailers, the majority have yet to recover from the effects of the lockdown last year."
He expected spending to remain relatively slow over the coming weeks, because of the likely emergence of Omicron and other economic pressures.
Omicron is a variant of Covid-19 and has spread worldwide rapidly. In New Zealand, more than 380 Omicron cases have been detected at the border since December 1.
As of today, there were 19 community cases of the highly-contagious Omicron. All are in isolation.
Modelling Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins had received suggested there could be "tens of thousands" of daily Omicron cases within weeks and New Zealand was placed into the red traffic light level at 11.59pm on Sunday.
Today there was also one new case of Covid-19 in Rotorua and one in Atiamuri.
Worldline NZ data on electronic transactions released earlier in the month reported holiday season spending in the Bay was up 11 per cent compared with 2020.
Rotorua's Atlantis Books owner Fraser Newman said it had been a good summer until now but the data did not provide the "whole picture" as there had been a drop in customers using cash instead of Eftpos.
Newman said he has enjoyed summer boom sales since 2014 while only relying on domestic visitors.
Big families and groups visiting would buy piles of items, "all in spending mode", he said.
Spending had not been down overall this summer, and until now had been pretty good.
But he said in the past week it suddenly plummeted.
"We've never seen January quite drop off this fast. Normally as you get toward the end of January the weekends get really busy, but we're not quite seeing the weekend traffic yet."
It was better than winter sales, but was really noticeable, he said. It would be typical for numbers to decline slowly across the month, particularly as school started again.
"It does seem like people have cut their holidays short, or people who take their holidays later aren't doing it."
Newman wondered if people of a certain income bracket who had been most impacted by the pandemic had been unable to take a holiday.
He also felt the Covid-19 traffic light system meant there was uncertainty travelling between regions, especially those from Auckland.
"Obviously with Omicron, people are cutting short their holidays."
The worrying thing for him was that it was the time of year to be saving up ahead on winter.
He said he didn't feel spending would pick up again over summer.
"It will be a year of austerity. No one quite knows what's around the corner."
That uncertainty was biggest psychological drag, he said.
"It weighs on your mental health. But, I mean, you've got to look at the big picture.
"As long as you're not in a position where you are not going day-to-day you can afford to step back ... You never quite know what you're going to make each day but that is part of the fun."
Summer was "absolutely booming" for clothing store Apt Collections, but the past week had been a different story for second-in-command Karen Edgar.
"We've had people coming in say, 'what's happened to Rotorua? There's no people around.' It has been a very abrupt stop."
It was usually steady right through the month, and while she was not sure why it had gone quiet, she wondered if it was "the threat of Omicron".
By afternoon there were parks available everywhere: "It's like a ghost town."
Q Records and Collectables owner Quentin Mcintosh previously told the Rotorua Daily Post sales had been "a perfect storm since December" with Christmas and Aucklanders out of lockdown.
However, he too had seen a sudden drop in visitor spend since the weekend of January 15-16.
"[The previous week] I was expecting it to start to drop off but it was really good . . . a really high percentage of my turnaround was from people from out of town."
Last week, however, it dropped "straight off a cliff".
He believed locals were not out and about either, but were maybe counting up Christmas costs.
He said online sales had been ticking over nicely.
"Physically in-store, there has not been many people around at all."
Mcintosh felt a slowdown made sense as people headed back to work, but had been expecting it to happen more gradually.
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard had been hearing similar anecdotes about a spending drop.
"We've had a few comments that it has dropped off quite quickly,"
He knew of no particular reason.
Rotorua Economic Development chief executive Andrew Wilson said business operators had said the summer period had been steady, and that vaccine passports and the traffic light system had worked well.
"They've also told us that the three weeks following Christmas were reasonably good in terms of domestic visitation compared to last year."
He said, as was expected for January, the number of domestic visitors to Rotorua had declined over the past week as people returned to work.
"However, our forward-looking data tells us weekends are expected to be busy for the rest of the month."