A tourism leader in Rotorua says businesses need financial help to prepare for the return of international tourists.
Statistics New Zealand show 1.8 million fewer international tourists visited the country from October 2020 to October 2021, compared to the previous year.
The country moved into the red traffic light setting and two cases of Omicron were reported in Tauranga yesterday.. University of Waikato professor of public health Ross Lawrenson expects a "rapid rise" in cases over the next 30 days.
Rotorua Economic Development and Destination Rotorua chief executive Andrew Wilson said tourism businesses had a hard summer.
"Overall, the period has been quieter than last year with many feeling uncertain about what business will look like beyond the end of January."
Wilson said businesses needed financial help to get prepared for the return of international tourists.
"They would strongly benefit from a funding package from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Tourism Kick-start Fund, consistent to what was received last year by the five regions in the South Island identified by the government as regions most affected by the absence of international visitors.
"As a destination that has always been heavily reliant on international visitors, Rotorua has been similarly impacted."
Rotorua Canopy Tours customer experience manager Eloise Roxburgh said funding could give certainty in light of the move to red.
"It'd be nice to know that we have the security to continue until things open up.
"Everyone just wants a bit of security, a bit of support, to know that everything is gonna work out."
While visiting Aucklanders had helped business, she said they had still felt the sting of international tourism losses.
"Everything sort of dropped off for us [when the borders closed]", she said.
Before Covid-19, the business had about 65 employees. Now, it has 25.
"Leading up to Christmas, we had no bookings.
"We decided to be optimistic, and trust that Kiwis would be looking around for something cool to do.
"By the time we hit the 26th [December], which is our busiest day usually, we did start to see everything pick up."
Roxburgh said the business had seen more visitors from the South Island, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne.
"It's been amazing to see the help or support that we've had from Kiwis over the past couple of years.
"Without that, it would be a very much different picture for us."
Velocity Valley Adrenaline Park general manager Debbie Guptill said they had a "fabulous" summer. Business was up 15 per cent compared to summer 2020.
"We're really humbled by the support of our fellow Kiwis," she said.
"We needed this summer. We had to have it. If people were in a lockdown, we would have seen a lot of businesses close their doors."
Guptill said she'd had questions via email, phone, and their website about whether they were open under the red light.
"Rotorua is still operating and ready to go.
"We're still open. We welcome them [visitors] with open arms."
Polynesian Spa sales and marketing manager Vicki Jessop said Auckland visitors had been fewer than expected.
"There was quite a few people from Auckland here, but I didn't think that it was the same amount that we've seen previously."
Jessop said she thought Aucklanders coming out of lockdown were prioritising visiting family and friends over taking holidays, and might be cautious about travelling because of to Covid-19 anxiety.
"We're seeing a lot of people travel who weren't able to go overseas, so they're coming up here from Christchurch or Wellington or even Hawke's Bay."
She said Kiwis who visited were more interested in "therapies and a whole experience, instead of a quick soak".
"We've all been through crazy times. Covid-19 has been hectic on everybody, and none more than our industry."
Tutanekei Souvenirs owner Ruth Henderson said the red light had made her business "completely dead".
"I don't think anyone wants to come out.
"Orange light is not so bad, you can sort of get by, but red light, I'm not sure how that's gonna pan out."
She said funding from the Government would be "fabulous".
"It would help us get through, that's for sure."
November and December were "reasonable" for her business because of Christmas shoppers.
"But after Christmas, it's dropped right off. It's really quiet. We're getting local tourists, but not as many as I thought we'd get.
"It can be a bit draining, of course, but you just get up and you go to work and you do your best.
"And you hope the borders will open at some point."
Wylie Court manager Judith Cunningham said the red light hadn't made any difference to her business.
"It's as if it's a normal day. The phone couldn't ring any busier."
The 37-room motel was booked out over the holidays, mainly with visitors from Auckland.
"We were looking forward to it just being us for a few days and sitting around the pool but boom, the phone rang and within minutes 22 rooms were booked."
Minister for Tourism Stuart Nash said he spoke regularly to Rotorua leaders including the mayor and business sector.
Destination Rotorua received $1.5m in funding from the Government's second tourism support package sat year to help support Rotorua's Regional Tourism Organisation, Maori Tourism operators, and those operating under concessions on Department of Conservation land in Rotorua/Bay of Plenty.
Nash said he was heartened to hear the economic development agency's outlook for the year and that new tourism and hospitality businesses were reinventing themselves and re-emerging to trade after a "period of hibernation".
He said domestic tourism spend in Rotorua last year was up 7 per cent on the same period in 2020.
"Rotorua is fortunate to have a diversified economy, which means it has not been as reliant on international tourists as the five South Island regions were."
"The Covid-related challenges facing tourism in Rotorua are shared by all regions in New Zealand, and by the tourism sector globally."
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there are no plans to reopen the border.
"No decisions have been made on the date, sequence and conditions for the border reopening and Cabinet will consider options within the next couple of weeks based on the most up-to-date advice.
"There are no easy calls when managing Covid-19 and the Government does recognise the many challenges the inbound tourism sector has faced."