Coronavirus slams Wānaka

Coronavirus is starting to take its toll on Wānaka’s tourism sector, with cancellations for events and accommodation.

Wānaka’s tourism industry is bearing the brunt of the government’s restrictions on visitors entering the country including the cancelling of the Warbirds Over Wanaka (WOW) airshow.

On Saturday night the government announced some of the world's tightest border controls to combat the spread of coronavirus, requiring all incoming travellers, including its own citizens, to self-isolate for two weeks starting from midnight Sunday. On Monday it announced that all events involving 500 people or more would be cancelled or postponed.

WOW, planned for Easter weekend, had been expected to attract 55,000 people over the three days with several thousand of those international visitors. 

WOW general manager, Ed Taylor, said the decision to postpone, which was made before the restriction, wasn’t taken lightly.

“At all times we have the safety of our participants and visitors at heart and so have to accept we won’t have an airshow this year.”

Queenstown Lakes District (QLD) Mayor Jim Bolt said: “Saturday’s announcement from the Prime Minister advising of new steps to protect New Zealanders from coronavirus will no doubt have a significant impact on the Queenstown Lakes District.

“A significant flow-on effect for our community is an economic one. It’s no secret that the tourism sector is the district’s largest employer and a sudden and considerable slowdown in visitor numbers is highly likely to affect people’s jobs and income,” Bolt said. 

Ignite Wānaka chair Pete Eastwood said there was no doubt that some businesses in the Upper Clutha were feeling some pain-points from the travel bans in place, potentially resulting in a reduced number of visitors to the region.

 “However, we have already found business owners/managers who have been affected by the disruption are responsively adapting their marketing and sales plans and where possible reducing key operating costs to minimise the impact.

“The A&P Show last weekend seemed well attended with many businesses reporting business on par with previous years, which is good to see.”

There were no plans to cancel Ignite events but it was monitoring the situation and would not hesitate to take action, he said.

Skydive Wanaka operations manager Chris Antone said “All tourism is feeling the effects - I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. Obviously our numbers are down but we are just taking it day by day.

“Down by how much varies but its considerable. We are still operating which is good. We are doing what we can to shift our focus and are marketing heavily to the Kiwi population.”

Adventure Consultants cancelled its guided expedition to climb Mt Everest on Friday after Nepal closed its borders to all but those willing to undergo a 14-day self-isolation. It cancelled all climbing permits.

“Everything was underway and support staff were due to arrive in Nepal around April 22,” said general manager Suze Kelly. 

“Although clients wouldn’t have arrived until April 1. 

“ Nepal has had one case of the coronavirus but it is very aware of the limitations of its medical facilities.

“In 2014 and 2015 we had to cancel Everest expeditions but they had already commenced so clients were able to claim something on insurance. That won’t happen this time.” 

The NASA super pressure balloon campaign due to happen at Wānaka Airport in April has also been cancelled and start-up staff are returning to the US.

Real Journeys manager of Cardrona and Treble Cone ski areas Bridget Legnavsky said: “We are very wary of whats going on with coronavirus at the moment. And we are spending 100 per cent of our time planning for the scenarios.” 

Cardrona is due to open June 7 and Treble Cone, June 27.

“We are still working it through it and are looking for feedback from our wider team tomorrow (Tuesday),” Legnavsky said.

“The ideas range from not opening to opening normally and the whole range in between. And we are modelling those and what they will look like.

 “There can be so much change in two and a half months and that’s why we have to have a set of scenarios.”

Wanaka Mountain Film and Book Festival director Mark Seddon said:” We’re continuing preparations for the festival while closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and will be abiding by any New Zealand government recommendations at the time.

“We have 70 films arrive and 12 books from all corners of the globe and the quality is outstanding. Most of our speakers are confirmed. We hope the worst of the virus will have passed by then, but it is a concern for a small charity like ours.”

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