Call for South Island bubble as South Canterbury hospitality operators fight to survive

New Zealand Hospitality South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips says many people in hospitality are putting on a brave face.
Valentina Bellomo/Stuff
New Zealand Hospitality South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips says many people in hospitality are putting on a brave face.

While some sectors have bounced back from level 4 restrictions, South Canterbury’s hospitality operators are doing whatever they can to ensure their businesses survive – as business leaders call on the Government to establish a South Island bubble.

Hospitality New Zealand South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips said business owners were “just trying to get through” in the hope of a return to level 1.

“Every bar owner and restaurant owner is concerned for their staff and doing their best for them to keep people employed.

“Staff who have moved on are not being replaced, teams are being multi-skilled and taking on more hours to keep business up. Others have reduced hours and are holding on for the summer.”

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Infometrics principal economist Brad Olsen said the hospitality sector was being hit hard, even at level 2, with estimates that spending across New Zealand (excluding Auckland) for the sector was still 22 per cent below usual levels.

However, Phillips said the figure she had been given was closer to 28 per cent and businesses had reported lacklustre trading over South Canterbury Anniversary Weekend.

“People are putting on a brave face because they love what they do.”

Bar operators have suffered most because so many events had been cancelled or postponed, she said.

“Owner/operators acknowledge the support from locals. We appreciate that they spend their money with us.”

Phillips said while she believed people were being cautious about socialising out in bars and restaurants, the arrival of summer and a return to level 1 would help.

Bars have been impacted most by the Covid restrictions under level 2 with events postponed or cancelled and people still cautious to go out, Hospitality New Zealand South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips said.
Valentina Bellomo/Stuff
Bars have been impacted most by the Covid restrictions under level 2 with events postponed or cancelled and people still cautious to go out, Hospitality New Zealand South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips said.

NZ Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Bridget MacDonald said livelihoods all over New Zealand were being affected by alert level restrictions and South Canterbury was no different.

“This will be one lockdown too many for some hospitality businesses.

“Without targeted support, the cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs at the heart of every local community are struggling to survive.”

MacDonald said operating under level 2, with restricted conditions and limited customer numbers, was not a viable option for many businesses.

“It’s crippling business owners as they still have significant outgoings – people are exhausting their savings and mortgaging their houses to pay their rent, staff, ACC levies, insurance, utilities, licensing fees and suppliers.

“There is limited tourism and business travel throughout the country, and in an environment of uncertainty, consumers are being careful with their spending – these are tough times,” MacDonald said.

South Canterbury hospitality operators were down closer to 28 per cent according to Kristy Phillips.
Valentina Bellomo/Stuff
South Canterbury hospitality operators were down closer to 28 per cent according to Kristy Phillips.

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said while some sectors were “booming” post lockdown, many in the hospitality and accommodation sector were suffering.

Smith said feedback she had received varied from establishment to establishment but overall it was a bit “flat”.

“Our message is for people to get out and support sectors that are doing it hard. Look after these people, they are an integral part of our community.”

Smith said the Chamber had sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson on September 21, urging him to move the South Island to level 1.

In the letter, Smith said for the South Island, and regional centres like South Canterbury, it was becoming critical the South Island moved to alert level 1 even if it was a strengthened Delta level 1.

“Business leaders are becoming frustrated at the lack of progress and their inability to operate at full steam. Our businesses are asking that government steps up to a strengthened and fit for purpose testing and border control regime to allow the South Island to support the rest of the New Zealand economy.

“We understand restricting non-essential travel between the islands and request that a South Island bubble or bespoke Delta level 1 is considered.

“Waiting for the country’s vaccination rates to rise to an acceptable level could take months and this is time that many businesses and our economy cannot afford.”

Smith said the letter had been received, and they had been advised the Government would be in touch.

“Since then it’s been silence. I spoke to Jo Luxton (MP for Rangitata, Labour) who was quick to come back and say it was a Ministry of Health issue.”

Since the lockdown began in mid-August, Infometrics said the total amount of card spending deferred or delayed was around $1.3 billion. Auckland’s time at level 4 had seen the region’s spending hole expand to around $767 million, but the hole across the rest of New Zealand had moderated from a peak of $629m to $543m.