February 2022 

In the February issue of The Shout NZ, NZABC’s executive director Bridget MacDonald discusses the challenges experienced by the hospitality industry in the COVID environment.

Hospitality operators and their teams need to be commended for their rapid adoption of Covid restrictions and the new Protection ‘traffic light’ Framework. These are undoubtedly challenging times when you have to completely change your business model, pivot to a new service structure, and absorb the costs of doing so. But for many, not being able to trade or the financial impact of reduced patronage and rising costs has meant that their doors have had to close forever.

Before COVID-19, our hospitality industry had 22,800 businesses, created 173,000 jobs and generated $14 billion in spending. We all look back on those days fondly –  our utopia. It seems a lifetime ago. Without international travellers and with restrictions on the domestic tourism market, the tough times remain.

It is not just the lack of trade that makes recovery a challenge for our hospitality industry – they are faced with other significant pressures: the closed border has led to skilled labour shortages, wages have increased, costs of goods have risen, and compliance costs are being hiked. These costs need to be absorbed by the business or passed on to the customer. In this environment, that’s a tough call to make.

It’s not just about economic challenges to businesses, but about the challenges to the core purpose of the industry… to provide hospitality, manaakitanga, and a safe and social place for friends and family to connect. Local cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs have long been places you used to walk into and get welcomed with a beaming smile – sometimes even a hug or a handshake for regulars. It is a little more challenging with our faces hidden under masks and the clinical, formal process of scanning in and vetting vaccine passes.

As I write this, the uncertainty of 2022 is the only certainty we have. We’ll all keep doing the right thing and doing what we need to do. The closest we will come to utopia is a move to the green traffic light. In the meantime, the best thing we can all do is continue supporting our local hospitality businesses. A little bit of love will go a long way to keeping the dream alive. Till we see the green traffic light, I’ll just think of the possibilities it holds with envy.