Tourism

Employees Wanted: Fiordland Prepares for Tourism Boom

  • Te Anau tour operators have received a small number of foreign visitors since borders opened to visa-free countries in April.
  • Some Tour Operators Expect Their Busiest Season
  • Fiordland Jets co-owner Chris Adams is concerned that New Zealand’s reputation as a “world-class” tourist destination could be lost if there aren’t enough jobs before September.

Hanging in the hallway of a bed and breakfast in Te Anau is a map of the globe studded with hundreds of colored pins.

Each year, co-owner Nathan Benfell cleared the map so that the next tourists would record where they were from.

Covid-19 brought foreign tourists to a halt in 2020 and this has had a devastating impact on Fiordland’s business.

Since then, the current pins have remained in place, as a reminder to Benfell that one day the foreign tourists will eventually return.

READ MORE:
* Fiordland is in for a tough summer as the international border reopening date is set for April.
* New Visit Fiordland manager wants Kiwis to talk about Te Anau
* A fresh vision of Milford Sound, but the cruise ship ban goes too far

This month, he was excited to take the pins off and start over in what he hopes could be a good year as foreign tourists return to revive Fiordland.

Nathan Benfell with his board showing the locations of past visitors they need to clear to start over after Covid-19.

Robin Edie/Other

Nathan Benfell with his board showing the locations of past visitors they need to clear to start over after Covid-19.

“The last two years it has been a reminder that people travel… we had two years of not knowing, now we can look ahead.”

Known as the gateway to Milford Sound, Te Anau has endured a decade of roller coasters.

Visitor numbers roughly doubled in the six years from 2013 to 2019, with approximately 870,000 visitors to Milford Sound in 2019.

Before the pandemic, it was assumed that in the 2019/20 season this number would exceed one million.

Thousands of tourists crowd at the pier waiting for a cruise on Milford Sound. [file photo]

KAMALA HEYMAN/Other

Thousands of tourists crowd at the pier waiting for a cruise on Milford Sound. [file photo]

It is estimated that about 80% of these visitors were foreign tourists.

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Fiordland’s tourism spending fell 49% to $43 million in the year to January 2021, with some tour operators reporting 85% to 90% drops in revenue compared to what they are usually seen in the summer.

Business owners have changed industries, some of them have taken on contract work in other professions, while others have expanded their offerings. Many tourists who historically did seasonal work in the city have left the country.

However, as the lockdown eased and Kiwi’s began to develop their own backyard, Fiordland’s domestic tourism spending increased 51% to $36 million a year through 2021.

According to Fiordland Historic Cruises skipper Adam Butler, it was these local tourists who brought Te Anau through the pandemic to where they are today, emerging from a two-year hibernation to welcome foreigners again.

Fiordland Historic Cruises skipper Adam Butcher was carrying American passengers aboard the sailing ship Faith, who arrived in New Zealand five hours after the border opened.  They will operate in June, July and August, when they would normally take holidays, to be available to any leaked tourists.

Robin Edie/Other

Fiordland Historic Cruises Captain Adam Butcher aboard…

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