Saturday, November 27

South Island Tour Operators Relying On Auckland Bookings Expect Level Upgrade

South Island tour operators are keeping their fingers crossed ahead of the October school holidays as they wait to find out if Auckland locals can travel again.

Skiers and Snowboarders at Cardrona Alpine Resort

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Businesses are looking forward to this vacation after a long winter.

But so far, bookings have been slim for many, despite the hiatus that began this weekend.

The October school holidays won’t come soon enough for some ski slopes that have turned off their lifts and closed after an interrupted season.

Wayfare Experience Director Bridget Legnavsky oversees the Cardrona and Treble Cone ski areas.

While Treble Cone had officially closed for the season, he said he had one last hurray at the store.

“We are expanding and opening the first weekend of school holidays just because the snow is amazing.

“The snow is amazing so we really hope people follow that and the fact that a lot of them would have gotten lost on their normal August skiing so our fingers are crossed that people keep coming back.”

I was expecting a good number of visitors on the slopes.

But the loss of Auckland’s inhabitants, who are roughly half of its visitors, would be deeply felt.

“You are now competing with spring and summer activities like mountain biking,” Legnavsky said.

“I think we have to get the message across that skiing is the best of the entire season and try to encourage people to choose to come skiing when they have so many other options.

“So these school holidays are always pretty mild, but obviously it will be a lot smoother without Auckland here.”

In Dunedin, Deborah Price of Larnach Castle said that October holidays used to be a blessing after winter.

“The coach trips would come with people from Australia, the United States, China and all over the place. We would have already had a few cruises and a lot of hustle and bustle.”

But that was before Covid.

They had made some changes since the first closure to attract more visitors, including free admission for children and early bird passes.

But he said they would deeply miss the people of Aucklanders if they couldn’t travel.

“Unfortunately, I just looked at our lodging reservations for the next two weeks and yes, it does not look wonderful. There is a slight increase in occupancy, but we still have a lot of empty rooms.”

I was still hoping that more reservations would arrive and that they would have plenty at the door.

The alpine village of Aoraki Mt Cook is generally reserved for the holidays, which mark the beginning of the summer season.

Tony Delaney owns Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge, and he said they were half full, but that will probably change.

“The challenge is that we only have a 48-hour cancellation policy, so people in Auckland live with hope. Our reservations do not necessarily reflect what will actually happen.”

The town is a four hour drive or less from Dunedin, Christchurch and Queenstown.

They had been receiving good support from domestic travelers, he said.

“The people of the North Island are still on the move, so they are spending their vacations here.

“A lot of people were hired to go to the Cook Islands and this closure has changed people’s plans, so we get the follow-up or spillover from that.”

I was hopeful that there would be some changes to the alert level soon.

“If Auckland is at level 2 then we expect to be pretty busy. But right now, the reserves are pretty slim.”

All eyes would be nervous on Monday’s alert level announcement to see if Aucklandites could return to the southern slopes and streets.

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