Hawke’s Bay hospitality in ‘panic stations’ as large businesses rejig work dos to include the unvaxxed

Hospitality businesses in Hawke’s Bay say they’re losing up to half of their summer incomes as large companies cancel Christmas parties so unvaccinated staff members don’t miss out.

Vaccine passes are required for entry at all hospitality venues at both red and orange of the Government’s new Covid-19 traffic light settings. Those that choose not to enforce this requirement are only able to open for contactless pick-up or delivery.

John Goldie, operations manager for Breakers in Hastings, estimates they’ve lost about 300 customers over the past fortnight due to cancellations.

“[It affects] even our walk-ins where a group of 10 to 12 people walk-in and one will say they are not vaccinated.”

Large group bookings over summer are a massive part of their year, making up about half of sales, he said.

This has left left them at “panic stations”, he said.

The 15-year industry veteran said the biggest frustration was hospitality businesses having to educate people about the traffic light system and inconsistencies across different businesses making it harder to do so.

“With the older system it was clearer and everyone knew what it meant.”

It’s been an especially trying time for David Hodson, operations manager for the recently rebranded The Boat Ramp in Ahuriri, Napier.

One month on from a small sinkhole forming underneath the deck, the waterfront eatery is sporting a beautiful new outdoor dining area. Now they just need people to fill it.

The business, beside the Hawke’s Bay Sports Fishing Club on Nelson Quay, had its seating capacity halved in November after a hollow formed underneath the deck, requiring attention.

A few weeks on and the deck issue has now been resolved with repairs completed and no further structural damage found.

“It looks beautiful.

“There’s so many concrete and boulders down in that hole, nothing’s going to happen for another hundred years I think,” Hodson said.

It was the new vaccine pass requirement hurting business now, he said.

“It’s been awful.

“We are losing bookings because businesses haven’t got all of their staff vaccinated so they can’t come.”

He said while they had a few breakfasts and lunches booked, it was nowhere near the usual numbers he would expect over the busy summer months.

“I’m hoping we’ll be flooded by tourists from Auckland.”

Tony McEwan, who owns The Speight’s Ale House also in Ahuriri, said they’d also had a couple of cancellations due to the vaccine pass requirements, while one Government organisation in Hawke’s Bay had decided it wasn’t appropriate to be seen dining out.

“It’s certainly had an effect.

“There’s also been the odd group where numbers have changed.”

Some groups had also brought their booking forward ahead of the change last week, he said.

While it had been a quieter weekend, McEwan wasn’t sure if this was solely due to the change and this coming one looked to be better.

“Two [cancellations] out of the month of December is not bad.”

Sarah Kelly, owner of Market St in Napier’s CBD, had also had a couple of cancellations, mostly from smaller groups.

“Definitely I’ve noticed a couple of booking cancellations since it came into effect.”

She said Christmas do bookings were generally down compared to previous years.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Covid-19 response group said the new system was central to the new minimisation and protection strategy.

“It provides as much certainty and stability as possible for people and businesses, and reduces the need for widespread lockdowns while protecting our health system.

“The traffic lights allow the hospitality sector to operate at all levels, rather than bars, restaurants and cafes having to close during higher alert levels.

“The framework provides options for businesses, so they can choose what works best for them.”

They said there were a number of ways for businesses to ensure My Vaccine Pass rules were followed and it was important to keep up to date with the latest information.

Many Hawke’s Bay businesses have been looking for alternate ways to celebrate the end of the year.

Pan Pac Forest Products at Whirinaki is offering staff $40,000 worth of vouchers to spend at local businesses.

Staff were given the choice of local restaurant or supermarket vouchers in lieu of the annual staff party this year. Those with children also received vouchers to visit the Funky Farm Petting Zoo.

With over 400 full-time staff employed at its Whirinaki site, the amount contributed to the local economy is significant, said managing director Tony Clifford.

“Pan Pac has put over $20,000 into the banks of local hospitality businesses and spent a further $23,000 on supermarket vouchers.

“While Covid-19 may have cancelled Christmas parties, we still want our staff to enjoy a nice meal out and a fun day with their families.”

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