Tuesday, 20 Apr 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: Bay of Plenty business leaders and owners reeling

Soul-destroying, more business closures, more job losses, immense pressure and financial stress. These are some of the comments from Bay business leaders as the region comes to grips with another stint at alert level 2.

Tauranga is expected to fare much better than Rotorua but the impacts would hit tourism and hospitality the most – with tens of thousands of dollars of bookings being cancelled.

But yesterday when Prime Minister Jacinda Arden addressed the nation, she said “We’ve done it before, we can do it again.”

She said warned Covid kills people and reminded businesses about the wage subsidy and the short-term absence payment.

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said it was a “massive blow” and “pretty soul-destroying” for business owners already struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

“Business owners cannot afford to keep living like this, and I don’t know what the answer is. But it’s inevitable that some businesses will close if this goes on for much longer.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Rotorua National MP Todd McClay, who said going in and out of restrictions was causing a significant amount of harm and ”morecompanies will close and more people will lose their jobs”.

”I am already hearing about local businesses who have had tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bookings cancelled as a result of the lockdown in Auckland. The economic damage that’s done to Rotorua and every other part of New Zealand dependent upon tourism, every time Jacinda Ardern puts into restriction will mean more companies in Rotorua will close and more people lose their jobs.”

McClay was also aware of people who had been borrowing against their homes to put money into their business to keep it afloat.

”It will feel like the last straw … ”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley was more upbeat and said by and large our local economy may not experience a noticeable impact if in alert level 2 only for a few days.

“But businesses that will be most impacted are those reliant on domestic tourists. The city may also be impacted by the supply chain constraints as non-essential workers in Auckland stay away from work,” he said.

Hospitality New Zealand accommodation sector Bay of Plenty chairman and Tauranga 850 Cameron Motel owner Tony Bullot said the effect on moteliers would be ”huge” and he had lost half of its bookings yesterday morning due to the cancellation of the 2021 National Masters hockey tournament.

”It means a substantial loss of business with cancelled events.

”I had people check in on Saturday for the hockey for an eight-day stay and they checked out yesterday morning.”

Now people would be cautious when it came to booking, he said and in his view a lot of pain had been created by not managing the evolving situation in Auckland.

”This is going to have a huge effect on the economy.”

Hospitality NZ Bay of Plenty branch president Reg Hennessy, who also owns Hennessy’s Irish Bar in Rotorua, said the local hospitality sector was feeling “broken” after hearing the news.

“The mood in my bar last night was very sombre and quite sad when we watched the Prime Minister’s announcement during the Joseph Parker fight.”

“It’s hard to even get your head around the full ramifications,” Hennessy said.

Tauranga’s CBK Craft Bar and Kitchen owner Billy Emeny said: “It’s a little bit disappointing but I think we’ve done really well as a country to keep Covid-19 cases as low as we have.

“We have to stay positive that we can get through this if everyone does the right things.”

Every [alert] level does have an effect on the hospitality sector which does slow down to some degree, and to what extent does depend on the type of business, he said.

”I realise it will be harder for bars relying on people dancing and drinking standing up.”

Emeny said it had also lost 400 advance bookings due to the cancellation of the National Masters hockey tournament.

But he remained philosophical.

Emeny said while he was disappointed, given what had been happening in Auckland, he was not surprised there was a sudden change to the alert levels.

“I considered these bookings as a welcome bonus to my core business … You can’t just rely on one-off events like this to keep your business going.

“I have great support in Tauranga, especially from my regular customers which I am so grateful for. You have to stay positive things will get better over time.”

Tauranga National MP Simon Bridges said the alert change would come with consequences for businesses in the region.

”Those seemingly small changes do affect bottom lines and the ability for businesses to keep pushing through. We need to spare a thought for those involved in hospitality, tourism and retail as there will be added compliance and cost.”

A Rotorua motel owner, who asked not be named, said he already had more than 10 bookings cancelled since the Prime Minister’s announcement.

“It’s very hard and frustrating as I don’t know whether to accept future bookings or not, as we don’t know how long we are going to stay in alert level 2 for.”

Tourism Bay of Plenty head Kristin Dunne said this had taken “everyone by surprise” and was obviously having a massive impact on event and accommodation providers.

“For instance, the National Masters hockey tournament due to take place next week had to be cancelled, with 1700 players competing and estimated 1200 people already in Tauranga with another 500due to arrive this week,” she said.

Dunne said including the number of accommodation providers, the tournament was expected to generate about $1 million worth gross domestic product for the region.

Then there was the Ocean Surf Lifesaving under-14 competition which was due to finish yesterday, which also had to be cancelled, affecting 1500 competitors. Similarly affected was the Tauranga Auto Extravaganza.

She said next week’s T20 Black Caps vs Australia at Bay Oval was also now up in the air.

“I really feel sorry for all the event organisers and the council who worked hard to support them to bring these events to the city. It’s so hard to plan these events only to have to cancel them at the last minute … Lots of these operators are small businesses who employ locals.”

Bay of Plenty National MP Todd Muller would be talking to businesses in Pāpāmoa this week and said those he had spoken to felt frustrated and vulnerable.

”They can’t plan with any confidence and they never know what is happening from one week to the next. Our businesses are extremely resilient but the stress that is putting on certain businesses is immense.”

”Nothing now can happen in Auckland and a lot of our businesses have engagement with Auckland either people or supply chain related so it puts them under huge pressure.”

– Additional reporting Carmen Hall

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