‘More to come’ for Fiordland tourism industry

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The Milford Haven cruise boat in Milford Sound. Photo: Supplied

THE Government will come to the rescue of struggling businesses in Fiordland, the chief executive of Southland’s regional development agency believes.

Minister of Tourism Kelvin Davis affirmed the region would benefit from Government’s funding, however Destination Fiordland manager Madeleine Peacock said the projects he refers to were approved before the Covid-19 outbreak and it misled the real need for funding Fiordland at this challenging time.

A new report from Great South has raised concerns for the Fiordland community and businesses.

The document says the area has had, with a 66% fall, the biggest decline in visitor spending in New Zealand and says 33% of its full-time employees are likely to be laid off.

This compares to a 59.8% drop in visitor spending in Queenstown and the national average of 45%.

A survey, completed by 179 businesses which employed a total of 1401 workers, also showed a third of all employees in Fiordland had been or were expected to be laid off, including 60 employees on work visas.

“It should be noted that the bulk of redundancies are expected to occur in the next four to eight weeks and unemployment is expected to rise,” the report says.

Great South chief executive Graham Budd said “without question” Fiordland was the “hardest hit” in Southland, but he believed the Government would soon announce funding to the region.

“The Government announced only a few areas and a few businesses they were offering support to. We know they have more to come. I don’t think we are being missed out,” he said.

Mr Budd believed the community should be pleased Queenstown received a good contribution to support its economy.

“Let’s hope ours is coming soon.”

Mr Davis said last week Fiordland and its surrounds would benefit from Government funding and activities through several programmes.

This included the Milford Opportunities Project, which was “well under way”.

“The primary focus of this project is to future-proof Milford Sound/Piopiotahi to protect the area’s important conservation values and connect visitors to New Zealand’s natural, cultural and historic heritage. Part of the Milford Opportunities Project is to develop and promote Te Anau as a gateway to Fiordland.”

He said $3 million of funding from the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy would go towards developing a master plan in stage two of the project.

Mr Davis said applications were received from Fiordland operators for support from the Government’s Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme,which has up to $20.2 million available to the 31 regional tourism organisations (RTOs) across New Zealand.

“Destination Fiordland will have access to up to $400,000 as part of this funding to RTOs.”

However, Ms Peacock believed his comments regarding Fiordland-specific funding initiatives were misleading.

She said the Milford Opportunity Project was approved in August 2019 from the new International visitor levy to go towards the development of a “master-plan” for Milford Sound.

“This fund is to develop a plan which is not due to be completed until mid-2021 and with no commitment of further funding to undertake the plan when it has been completed. The $3 million allocated to Milford Opportunities Project does not address the issues we are facing now.”

She also said the $400k from the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) related to the amount Destination Fiordland was eligible for from the $20.2 million allocated to RTOs from the STAPP.

“All RTOs in New Zealand will receive funding from this $20.2 million, therefore it cannot be classified as specific and targeted support for Fiordland.”

Ms Peacock said there were many Fiordland-based businesses waiting to hear from the Government about their own STAPP applications.

“I believe the Minister’s comments regarding Fiordland-specific funding initiatives are misleading and minimise the extreme and specific need in Fiordland at this time.”

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