Rotorua tourism businesses are sacrificing years of profits to keep as many staff as possible as they ride out the Covid-19 downturn.
Ventures such as Mitai Māori Village, Zorb, MDA Adventures and Mountain Bike Rotorua have not yet made anyone redundant.
At a Rotorua tourism forum this week, Mitai Māori Village founder and owner Wetini Mitai-Ngatai said he was "holding on to everybody" despite losing 85-90 per cent of revenue that normally came from international visitors.
The village had 80 staff pre-Covid-19.
Five resigned, voluntarily, around the time of lockdown and the others stayed on.
Mitai-Ngatai said for the past 18 years the village had been "a really good halfway hub for the children coming out of school, keeping them out of trouble, so that they are able to hopefully go into furthering education".
He said many former staff had gone on to become teachers, doctors and lawyers and he wanted to keep helping youth get on the right "trajectory" despite the downturn.
"But what do you do when you run out of work? We started selling hāngī and bought a food truck to keep up everybody's morale.
"We are not making any money out of it but it's keeping everybody busy. We have been supported by community events."
The business was also having staff do maintenance in the village and bus fleet.
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Zorb manager Melissa Craig told the forum people were "at the heart of our business" but keeping them all on had come at a cost.
"All the nice savings we had from summer will run out come the end of August."
"Weekends are epic, they're trading at kind-of normal levels," she said.
"But weekdays are frigging miserable. So we are just riding the wave of the school holidays."
Zorb is "pulling ideas off the shelf" looking at "Zorb in a box" export options, developing board games and sub-contracting sales and marketing team members to keep staff busy.
Tak Mutu and his brother Tu own MDA Adventures and Mountain Bike Rotorua.
They have kept all 60 staff on so far, even though they were tracking at just 20 per cent of normal business income.
Before Covid-19 luxury tourism was their biggest earner and 85 per cent of their profits came from international visitors.
Tak Mutu said the Government's wage subsidy had made a "huge" difference for his "work whānau" and provided time to "figure out how we can hold on to everyone".
"What happens after the wage subsidy ends, I don't know."
At the start of the lockdown in March, the Mutus agreed to "forget profits for the next three years" and focus on people.
"Look after people," Tak Mutu said.
"That is the first job that everyone, every single person should have, on this planet."
He believed the tourism industry will recover in the long term but "not all of it, not like it was".
Despite this, "there is nowhere else in the world" he would rather be.
Mountain Jade general manager Sam Hulton said Covid-19 had "wreaked havoc" on the wider jade industry.
The business, founded in Rotorua, has five stores across the country.
Hulton did not speak about job losses or job security but said 95 per cent of Mountain Jade's profits normally come from international customers.
Hulton said the business was "not going to make any money for a good while".
"But if we can manage to keep our head above water ... I think we will be all right."
Community advocacy group Evolve Rotorua organised the forum, held on Tuesday, and also invited Destination Rotorua commercial manager Tracy Goodall to speak.
She said Rotorua's workforce didn't include many people on international working visas "that come and go to fill gaps", compared to other parts of New Zealand.
"We actually train people and they come into our family and they come into our business ... and often they're here forever."
She said there were 31 regional tourism organisations in New Zealand all now trying to "fight for the same piece of the pie and cut through the noise".
Business events, in particular, looked to be a "really great opportunity" for Rotorua to stay busy during the weekdays and she said they were a "new focus" for the Destination Rotorua team.
Canopy Tours general manager Paul Button told the Rotorua Daily Post his team had been going "really well" since tours restarted on May 27.
Weekends were busy but weekdays were quiet and Button was looking at ways to bring in visitors earlier each week, so staff have more work.
"But news stories like those this week about people getting out of isolation - that does knock your confidence," he said.
Buried Village of Te Wairoa just reopened last Wednesday.
Operations manager Amanda McGrath said yesterday the school holidays had been "amazing" so far.
"It has just boosted everyone and taken away a little bit of apprehension ... It's great that lots of families are getting out and about from a lot of different parts of the country."
She said planning was "really difficult" and the business had to make a few redundancies since March.
"But we've got a pretty strong team that can multitask across the business. We are utilising people in as many areas as we can."
Te Puia also reopened last week.
Chief executive Tim Cossar said the attraction had shorter opening hours and fewer staff, but the public response had been "tremendous".
"We have increased the small remaining team to around 50 and hope to continue building up over the coming months. Most of those we have been hiring are returning to us after our close-down. It is great to see them back."
He said Te Puia first felt the effects of Covid-19 in January when Chinese tourists dropped.
Government support packages were not available in time, and would "not have been enough to retain all of our people".
"Unfortunately, we simply had no choice but make some tough decisions and major changes."
Rotorua tourism: A pre Covid-19 snapshot
• Last year, 23 per cent of employed people in Rotorua worked in tourism.
• In the year to September 2019, domestic visitors spent $473 million in Rotorua and international visitors spent $354m.
• Tourism made up more than 17 per cent of Rotorua's GDP, compared to 5.8 per cent nationally.
Covid-19 government support for eligible tourism businesses
• Temporary wage subsidy of $585 per week for full-time staff or $350 for part-time.
• Strategic tourism assets protection.
• Small business cashflow (loan) scheme.