Tourism Operators Suffering Severe Mental Health Challenges

A year and a half after New Zealand's borders closed, the mental health of tourism operators is under severe pressure, according to a new survey by the Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA).

Three-quarters of respondents to the survey were concerned about their personal health and wellbeing, with 9 percent being very concerned. Comments provided by respondents were heavily focused on stress, uncertainty, mental toll, fatigue, depression and financial concerns.

The survey was carried out in July and August, just before the latest lockdown. It was released by the TIA chief executive Chris Roberts during an industry webinar held to mark the day when Tourism Summit Aotearoa was scheduled in Kirikiriroa, Hamilton. The Summit has been postponed to 29 November.

"The findings of this survey are sobering," said Roberts.

"TIA has surveyed members regularly through 2020 and 2021 but this is the first time we have specifically asked about health and wellbeing.

"It is very worrying that a third of respondents (35%) are moderately or very concerned about their own mental health. Tourism operators accept the need to protect New  Zealanders from COVID-19 but many owners of once thriving tourism businesses are now facing severe financial hardship. They are part of an industry that was the first to be hit by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. 

“We know some have been able to attract more domestic travelers, but many provide services and products that are specifically designed to appeal to international visitors. With the increasing likelihood of another summer with borders closed, some operators are close to breaking point. The current Alert Level restrictions, while necessary, have  stopped domestic tourism, adding to the existing stresses reported in this survey.” 

Overall, the survey found that tourism businesses’ turnover has halved (down 48%); and  four out of ten jobs have been lost (down 37%) compared to pre-COVID levels.  

Five percent said their business would not be operating in six months’  time, while 43 (16%) said they would be struggling to operate in six months. 

However, longer-term confidence levels are healthier, with 70 percent of respondents expressing confidence that their businesses will be flourishing in five years’ time compared to just 11 percent not being confident.  

“We are eagerly looking forward to the day when we can all enjoy the freedom to travel again. The most useful things we can all do right now is regularly check in on each other,  and encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Roberts said.