Many tears have been shed, but Dunedin’s tourism operators are showing strength and resilience as they scramble to adjust to a massive drop in visitors.
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) tourism spending figures showed the bottom had dropped out of the tourism market, with March figures down by 36.6% on last year.
April figures have not yet been released, but the dramatic decrease is expected to continue, affecting 18,000 Dunedin people employed in the wider visitor industry, including hospitality, retail, attractions and tours.
Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie said domestic visitors were the city’s largest market, spending $527million in the year to March, “so with the move into Level 2, we’re looking forward to the restart of domestic spend in Dunedin”.
“Dunedin’s wider visitor industry, much like the rest of New Zealand, has sustained a significant hit over the last few months and we expect that the recovery period will take some time, with many unknown factors such as cruise visitation and border openings,” Mr Christie said.
“That said, we are expecting activity to pick up now that travel at Level 2 has been opened up, first and foremost from returning tertiary students and visiting friends and relatives.”
Otago Peninsula Trust marketing manager and Dunedin city councillor Sophie Barker said the tourism crash had been “devastating” for the industry.
Ms Barker, who has worked in local tourism for most of her life, said the impact of Covid-19 was unprecedented, but operators would “have to grit our teeth and get through it”.
“Tourism businesses are now working hard to pivot and find ways to attract local visitors,” she said.
“Local people hosting friends and relatives and bringing them to visit attractions will be hugely important.”
Mr Christie said effective domestic marketing would be vital.
Enterprise Dunedin had plans under way before lockdown, and these were being fine-tuned in response to Covid-19.
Initiatives to get Kiwis travelling internally had begun, including Tourism New Zealand’s domestic campaign, set to begin in June.
An Australian approach would be activated once it was known when the borders would open.
Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours co-owner Neil Harraway said it stopped running wildlife tours in Alert Levels 4 and 3.
“We could operate under Level 2 but winter is our really quiet time so we are not going to be in a hurry to start up again.”
The “big issue” was the state of the tourism sector in summer – its high season, he said.
Dunedin City Council Aro Toi group manager Nick Dixon said council staff were “working very hard” on plans for the possible reopening of Olveston Historic House and other council arts and cultural facilities in Alert Level 2.
It was too soon to discuss the details of the plans, he said.