SkyCity Casino Chairman Deems Reopening of New Zealand as Irresponsible

Piers Daubeney

Posted On:   JUL - 08 - 2020

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As the world still struggles to cope with the devastation caused by COVID-19, it seems that businesses in New Zealand are now fed up with the lockdown. Kiwis are keen on reopening the borders to allow for tourism and companies like THL to flourish yet once again.

However, SkyCity casino Chairman, Rob Campbell has called people lobbying for its reopening as “irresponsible”. Campbell had the following to say, “We’re supportive of the Government maintaining a very strict control on the border … and simply those people who are arguing for opening the borders quickly we think are being irresponsible,”.

Tourism Holdings (THL) is the biggest supporter of reopening the borders as it has faced hefty losses. Last week there was a discussion paper involving former Prime Minister Helen Clark , former Air New Zealand chief Rob Fyfe and Sir Peter Gluckman saying that the country should start working out the nitty gritty on how to “re-engage with the world”

At present the government is operating a 14-day quarantine or self-isolation on arrival. The thought of wasting precious holiday time on quarantine has put a stop to international tourism. THL has had to deal with severe blows to its finances a result of this.

THL has not only been affected in New Zealand where it operates a campervan business, renting and selling second-hand vehicles but also other regions such as United Kingdom, North America and Australia.

Rob Campbell who also sits on the THL board says “Obviously it’s a huge adjustment when your revenue basically disappears, the business is handling it well, we’re back with our rental activities working in each country we operate in, and with domestic tourists in each location we’re doing well,”.

“It’s not nearly as good as our previous business with mainly overseas tourists in each country, but it’s going very well from a domestic point of view.

“Obviously we’ve had to lay off quite a lot of staff, and that’s been very difficult for everyone concerned, obviously particularly for those who have left us, but overall the business I think is now in what I would call a steady state.”

“Both the rentals and the second hand motorhomes are both going well in the US, with strong domestic demand for buying motorhomes and for renting them, so it’s a strong market at the moment but obviously it still misses the overseas tourists.”

Campbell had resigned to the fact that borders would not open until 2021, possibly late 2021. THL had changed its strategy to accommodate that so news of early border reopening is not being taken kindly by Campbell.

“It’s totally, and properly, driven by the health judgments of the governments concerned, so while it might suit us to have more tourists coming in, we certainly understand why they’re not.

“There are still bookings people haven’t cancelled yet to come to New Zealand but I think any sensible tourist operator is working on the kind of assumption we are, that we’re dealing entirely with the domestic market.”

“We ran a special price which is still in action to try and spark demand for local tourism again, obviously to help ourselves with cashflow but also to help tourism right around the regions, and that was hugely successful, it crashed our booking systems.

“We’re still there with that hump of demand, the school holiday season is still showing strong demand under that and in fact we’re pretty much booked out for the school holidays.”

Naturally adjustments have had to be made by THL in order to cope with a level 4 lockdown in New Zealand. However, Campbell believes that THL will struggle less compared to smaller operators and that the company will come out stronger after the crisis has finished.

“I think many small operators are struggling, don’t have as strong a balance sheet as us, are probably feeling the pinch a bit more, so that’s certainly to our advantage,” Campbell said.

“In fact once international travel does loosen up to some extent, then the brand of New Zealand is very strong, and we think more and more people will want to come here.

“We don’t want growth for growth’s sake when the market does open up again, it’s very important we maintain the New Zealand brand as a clean and healthy and environmentally sound brand.”

Referring to the casino side, Campbell admitted that SkyCity was suffering from a lack of gambling activity from international tourists.

“But business is building back from when they were closed so every week the occupancy is improving – it’s not yet where we want it to be but it is improving.”

“Like every other tourist-exposed business we’ve got a lot of capital expenditure plans on hold but that’s just the necessary part of these events, we’re very thankful to be open and operating and our staff are all healthy and well, and it could be a lot worse.”

It was on 23rd March 2020 that as per government orders Skycity Entertainment group had to shut down its three venues due to coronavirus pandemic.

After twenty-six days the firm was given permission to open partially by the New Zealand government in its updated health management framework. As per the new framework, the casino was mandated to divide its venue into multiple zones to follow social distancing norms.

During this time all three venues welcomed their guests by following social distancing. Even the casino operators were mandated to maintain sufficient distance from the players. The players also had to operate the pokies machines by wearing gloves and only one person at a time was allowed.

Now that the pandemic warning level has dropped to one, SkyCity Entertainment can now operate without following the social distancing norms and operate on normal working hours.