Rotorua’s love letter to tourists from Auckland – you’re very welcome

Two big Rotorua tourism businesses have penned what they call a love letter to Aucklanders, who they say are very welcome in the area.

With people travelling out of Auckland before lockdowns facing a sometimes hesitant welcome – and in rare cases hostility in some places – the Rotorua businesses say the reception is far different in their city.

While Covid’s impact on Auckland-based businesses is widely known, beyond the borders of the big city, many Bay of Plenty tourism businesses are struggling following the hit to visitor numbers when Aucklanders go into lockdown.

Spending by Aucklanders in Rotorua during 2019 totalled $145 million, and they made about 420,000 visits to tourism sites. Covid-19 has seen those numbers drop drastically.

Further afield, last year an Auckland couple were asked to leave a Dunedin restaurant because of Covid-19 concerns.

The two Rotorua businesses, the Polynesian Spa and Rotorua Canopy Tours, have issued a direct invitation to Aucklanders to let them know they will be gladly welcomed back any time alert levels drop, as they did from level 3 to level 2 last Sunday. This allowed Aucklanders, who have now endured four lockdowns, to travel out of the regions.

Polynesian Spa chief executive Gert Taljaard said: “This is an open love letter to Aucklanders; we miss you.

“After the initial Auckland lockdown last August, there were many stories of Aucklanders being denied service from hospitality and tourism businesses across the country, which was brought on by a wave of uncertainty and fear at the time. We could not disagree with this approach more. Aucklanders – we need you.”

Taljaard said changes in the Auckland alert level had a devastating flow-on effect across the country, one thatRotorua was acutely aware of as it relied on the business Aucklanders provide.

He said that when Auckland goes into lockdown, Rotorua tourism firms could lose up to 75 per cent of their business.

“At those levels you ask whether it is viable to keep operating.”

The Polynesian Spa had lost about half of its business with borders closed and international visitors absent.

About 40 per cent of the spa’s business was people from Auckland, and throughout Rotorua, on average they tended to spend more than visitors from other places.

Staff numbers had been cut from about 90 to just over 50.

“Even though we don’t shut our doors during Auckland’s lockdown, a large proportion of our visitors are Aucklanders, and we can’t wait to have them back.”

Taljaard said the spa had cut admission prices after the nationwide level 3 and 4 lockdown last year but had put them back up. It was now working on midweek packages to help stimulate the market.

Rotorua Canopy Tours general manager Paul Button said Aucklanders “are doing all of New Zealand a solid by taking one for the team of five million” during alert levels.

“They absolutely deserve a break now these latest cases are under control, and we want them to know we’re here for them. We can’t wait to showcase our attractions to our Auckland guests when they’re back.”

He saidflying among the treetops in an ancient forest full of native birds sounds like a great way to celebrate being able to leave the house.

“Empathy is what seems to be lost in translation now. We are all struggling, we are all adapting, we all can help one way or another. Showing us some support in our time of need will go a long way to ensure we can continue entertaining Kiwis – and hopefully tourists – in the near future.”

Rotorua Economic Development interim chief executive Andrew Wilson said tourist operators had been affected in different ways by the pandemic.Some had closed or were hibernating but others were able to cater for the domestic market.

”We love Aucklanders unlike some in other parts of the country.”

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