New Zealand Journeys, Wonderful Journeys

Tourism Update

Ski fields allowed to open under Alert Level 2

Source: Jo McKenzie-McLean // 15:41, 07 May 2020 From Stuff

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday mass gatherings under level 2 would be limited to 100 people.

New Zealand's ski resorts will be open for business under Alert Level 2.

However, when asked in questioning about how the mass gathering restrictions would impact on ski fields, Ardern said for “open air” spaces like golf courses or places with many “players” there would “obviously be a different set of circumstances”.

“When we are talking about these mass gatherings, it's where you have got those congregations of individuals that we really need to be very mindful of the contact people have with one another.”

NZSki Chief Executive Paul Anderson. Photo / Stuff

NZSki Chief Executive Paul Anderson said the ski industry was “heartened” the ski resorts would be open for business under level 2.

“We have got so much space it is possible for us to keep everyone spread out. We will spread out queues, put only 100 seats in any seated areas and carefully manage people in those areas ... We are committed to being a responsible industry.”

The ski industry had worked hard to show the Government it had safe operating protocols and could demonstrate good management across the industry, he said.

“It would have been devastating for the industry if we could not open. We know the ski industry and resorts are the reason a lot of people travel to the likes of Queenstown, Wanaka or Ohakune and when they come they spend money on other things.”

The ability for people to travel domestically was also “really positive”, he said.

“That enables people to travel outside our region, to come and stay in hotels and come to our ski resorts.”

NZSki was expecting between 25-50 per cent of normal visitation, and although it had not made anyone redundant, they would employ fewer seasonal staff, he said.

He did not expect the trans-Tasman bubble to be up and running for the 2020 season, he said.

NZSki would wait until a final decision would be made on level 2 on May 11 before releasing detailed plans for the 2020 season.

“What we can do now is work with Government officials to understand the details of level 2 for the ski industry and revise plans over the coming days.”

National Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said easing of the rules to allow inter-regional travel at Alert Level 2 would go a long way to restarting tourism in the south.

“Businesses have been crying out for some certainty in the travel space and today’s announcement gives them some clarity. For areas like Fiordland and Queenstown in the south, it is truly a game-changer for the local economies.”

Earlier in the week, New Zealand ski industry representatives wrote jointly to MBIE raising concern resorts could not open under level 2 parameters.

NZSki Ltd chief executive officer Paul Anderson, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone Ski Area general manager Bridget Legnavsky and Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Ltd chief executive officer Jono Dean — on behalf of Ski Areas Association of New Zealand — have written jointly to MBIE raising concern about level 2 operating parameters that will prevent ski resorts opening for the 2020 season.

Mt Hutt. Photo / Yabo Liu (Ring)

Two key areas were critical to opening: Opening up inter-regional travel; and making ski resorts exempt from a mass gathering restriction of 500 people.

“Inter-regional travel is critical to all our ski areas to ensure we have a sufficient flow of customers to sustain our winter operations and justify opening our operations to the public under Alert Level 2,” the letter leaked to Stuff said.

“Ski resorts need to be considered urgently and given special classification to open without having the ‘mass gathering’ restrictions around 500 people applied.”

Both of these Alert Level 2 parameters were critical for each individual ski area to be financially viable and able to open for the 2020 ski season, it said.

“If we are unable to open, 3000 jobs will be lost and there will be severe economic, community and social consequences in the upcoming winter months.”

Communities that will be affected are Queenstown, Wanaka, Methven, Ohakune, National Park and their surrounding areas, the letter said.

“These areas of New Zealand desperately rely on winter tourism, driven by the ski resorts. The idea of the resorts not being able to open this winter for these communities will be absolutely devastating. It will also lead to the long-term loss of critical skills in the industry and therefore have a permanent negative impact on the industry.”

For resorts to be viable in the level 2 environment, private car travel within each island will be critical, they said.

Furthermore, the reality of ski resorts was visitors do not arrive at once for a single event; choke points could be managed in accordance with level 2 guidelines and indoor areas could be restricted to 100 people with security on entry and exit points; 1 metre social distancing will be managed; contact tracing will be managed; cleaning and hygiene will be standardised; and PPE equipment will be used.

“In terms of outdoor areas, it is important to be aware of scale ... Many resorts have terrain in excess of 400 hectares, that’s 400 rugby fields – more than twice the size of Central Wellington.

“Our larger resorts cater for up to 6000 people in a normal season on a busy day. Even with these numbers we are comfortable that we would never have more than 500 at any of these points. Even our best-case scenario this winter season means we will only reach 50 per cent of these numbers.”

National Cluth-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the Government needed to deliver movement on the 500 “mass gathering” restriction for ski fields, and support an industry that employed thousands of people across the country.

“If we can get the skifields up and running this winter it will make a huge difference to the Queenstown economy ... We have had a number of days now without any cases and if we have a sustained period with no cases it is pretty clear it should be safe for the ski fields to get some sort of allowance under level 2.

Mt Tongariro. Photo / Yabo Liu (Ring)