Home Glaciers Glacial towns frozen by lack of staff, capacity for returning tourists

Glacial towns frozen by lack of staff, capacity for returning tourists

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West Coast glacier tourism companies fear they won’t be able to keep up with the growing demand.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Staff shortages and reduced airline capacity are hampering businesses as they try to weed out the cobwebs of their mothballed operations.

Business owners in West Coast glacier towns are working hard and hoping visas and flights line up in time to welcome summer tourists back.

Gig Raksamart runs three hotel businesses in Franz Josef, but two of them have remained on ice waiting for tourists to return.

“Right after lockdown in 2020 we closed the King Tiger because the winter market has always been foreign tourists anyway and we just hope it will last a few months and it turned out to be a few years. “

Earlier this year, Full of Beans coffee also went into hibernation.

They would typically have up to 120 employees between the three companies, but now operate with less than 20.

She needed at least 25 other front-line workers, 10 cooks and a few managers.

She planned to open the Full of Beans cafe the second week of September, but didn’t have enough staff to make it happen.

“No, we can’t open Full of Beans or King Tiger yet. We’ve started asking tour operators to contact us to bring a group in the summer or spring.

“But we just can’t have them here because we don’t have staff.”

The overseas hiring process was taking too long and in-country hiring was not working either, she said.

It meant she was unsure when they could reopen both of their businesses despite hopes of a busy summer and some foreign workers queuing.

“The immigration process with verification of employment and accredited status is taking so long that we don’t know when they can apply for the visa and how long the visa process will take until they get the approval. and come to work, which could take a month, two months.”

Tourists on Fox Glacier in 2009,

Hotels had to close in Fox Glacier and Franz Josef due to the pandemic as tourism disappeared.
Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari / 123RF

In May last year, The Scenic Hotel Group closed four of its hotels in Fox Glacier and Franz Josef with the intention of remaining closed for up to 18 months.

Typically, up to 90% of their visitors to the region come from abroad.

Managing Director Karl Luxon said closing a hotel was extremely difficult.

“These are buildings that [are] never really meant to be closed. These are buildings that are built to be populated and by shutting down or hibernating there are actually a lot of things you need to do.”

This included the ongoing maintenance of buildings and amenities like the water reticulation system, hotel ventilation and linen storage – and the bills haven’t gone away either.

“There was always a small team on the coast that scoured the properties daily.”

Three of the hotels have now reopened, but pulling them out of hibernation has not been easy either, he said.

“It’s almost like opening a hotel from scratch, so it’s unpacking stuff, putting everything back in order.

“A lot of that now is about staffing our hotel teams and that might be our biggest challenge, finding enough people to be able to work inside those hotels.”

Nearly 140 employees are still needed for these hotels and another nearby in Haast.

Airline capacity to Aotearoa has also been a challenge, he said.

“Some tour operators have reported that they were simply unable to get their passengers on flights to New Zealand in time to operate this tour.

“We can see the air capacity coming into New Zealand is improving significantly from January.”

Bernie Oudemans kept Holly Homestead open for the first 12 months of the pandemic, but described it as soul-destroying and decided it was best to go into hibernation.

It is preparing to reopen this weekend.

“It’s just going to be a huge spring cleaning, so the list just keeps growing, so we’ll work on it.”

Their involvement in Jobs for Nature gave them a sense of purpose and a source of income, she said.

But she was glad to have reservations.

“Maybe almost half of our bookings are people who tried to come in 2020, they tried to come in 2021, and they kind of kept picking another date and pushing all their plans forward. .

She was delighted to see more tourists returning and that Franz Josef was buzzing again.

“The only downside is that it might be difficult to find a park on the main street again,” she joked.

“But we can deal with this.