THERE is light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for Te Anau’s struggling tourism industry but the financial lifeline may come too late for some businesses.
The region’s economy has been limping along since 2020 while tourism operators nursed financial blows — trying to survive on as little as 10 to 15% of their normal annual income.
Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash said the Te Anau and Fiordland area was one of the five regions hit particularly hard by the border closures.
“The $49 million Kick-Start fund is now available for those businesses who are ready to scale up operations or come out of hibernation to prepare for the return of international visitors.’’
Visit Fiordland manager Stu Cordelle said the fund might be enough to keep some operators afloat until the tourist dollar started to flow again in the region.
“It’s something that’s absolutely needed for Fiordland. They’ve been doing it tough for two-and-a-half years. It’s certainly going to help with getting businesses ready [for the return of visitors].
“The real truth is we won’t see huge numbers of visitors until much later in the year.”
He hoped working visas would be issued again, to allow the much-needed labour force to arrive.
The Kick Start fund announced on March 17 by Mr Nash, would be managed by Great South (Southland Regional Development Agency) and could be used to freshen facilities, train or hire staff or buy new stock in readiness for the reopening of the transtasman border at midnight on April 12.
Mr Nash said Australia would be the first border to open, followed by key northern hemisphere countries: The United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Germany from midnight on May 1.
He also hoped the 2022 ski season would be under way by June and would be a bumper one.
Mr Cordelle believed the timing with the Australian market might work well as the short Tasman jaunt made it a simple process for families to take a quick break for a week in New Zealand.
Fiordland Community Board chairwoman Sarah Greaney said the border opening could not come soon enough for the region.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time now. I think it’s going to be a welcome start to getting businesses operational again and visitors coming back to the country.”
She thought the region’s full recovery would not happen quickly as northern hemisphere visitors would not be filtering through until late 2022.
But the financial lifeline may come too late for some tourism operators.
While for others, it would still be a difficult time through the winter waiting for the tourist flow to increase.
She hoped the fund would provide operators with the help they needed to survive through the winter.
Survival was not solely a financial issue as the region’s labour market relied heavily on visitors on working holidays.
Visitors also needed to have a good-quality experience and being able to engage quality staff was an important part of that equation.
She said it was a bit of a chicken or egg situation with visitors also bringing much-needed staff.
Maintaining a high-quality visitor experience was now the key to the region’s financial recovery, she said.
Mr Cordelle said Great South would start receiving Kick Start Funding applications from tomorrow.