Tourism coming to a grinding halt due to Covid-19 restrictions draws parallels to the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, says tour operator Encounter Kaikōura.
Speaking on Tourism Export Council New Zealand’s health and wellbeing webinar on Tuesday, co-owner and business development manager Lynette Buurman said a lot of what the industry was dealing with now resonated with what Kaikōura operators had to endure after the earthquake cut all access to the region.
“If we think back to November 2016, we were fully geared up for a busy busy season; our forward bookings were looking amazing, and it was going to be the busiest season we had in quite a few years,” she said.
“Confidence had really returned to the market, and New Zealand was tracking well as a destination of choice. We were full of enthusiasm so we had fully recruited, we had our staff training well underway with most people ready to be signed off, and then we had the earthquake.
“From the business momentum point of view, it was just the most incredible situation to find ourselves in – this abrupt halt to everything – to trading, to customers, to our future. It was very, very confronting, not just for us but for our small community.”
Buurman said Covid-19 travel restrictions mirrored the road closures that were put in place after the earthquake.
“We were completely cut off – all of our access into our community was severed. We experienced as a community absolute isolation – we couldn’t move freely, it challenged every aspect of our lives, and feeling cut off from the outside world was just an unbelievable place to be,” she said.
“We had to figure out how we would endure the challenge because we knew we wouldn’t be able to operate very quickly after that event, and in actual fact it took 13 months before our harbour was able to allow us to operate a full schedule of tours again so it was a long time to actually wait.
“Throughout the period we had to deal with endless road closures, curfews, rules rules rules… and at the moment it feels like that’s all we’re dealing with – rules. So, there’s a similarity around having to conform to the rule makers and fit in and at times that was immensely frustrating.
“The lack or loss of freedom of movement was huge for us, and I think it really contributed to our anxiety factor.”
Encounter Kaikōura employed 40 permanent staff. This increased to 55 in high season. It ran four vessels throughout summer.
“Setbacks seemed like a way of life – would we ever get through what we were dealing with because we really just wanted to be able to resume our business without restrictions,” Buurman said.
“It was really overwhelming to process. What we are dealing with now has really resonated with me – something that is out of our control. How do we tackle what we have to tackle, where do we start and what can you actually do? And they are similar questions that you can ask yourself right now with what we are facing.
“I know that we will come back better and come back stronger even though it’s been a really painful, drawn out, protracted exercise.”
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