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A year on, Central Otago is yet to be impacted by the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That is not to say it will not come, but for the most part the region has been shielded by a buoyant market.

Tourism Central Otago general manager Dylan Rushbrook said the sector has ‘‘effectively seen a perfect hold’’ on the previous 12 months, thanks to ongoing support from people visiting from outlying regions.

Before Covid-19, visitors to Central Otago were made up of 75% domestic tourists and 25% international.

However, support from other areas, including Canterbury, Otago and Southland, had helped fill part of the 25% gap created by border closures.

Mr Rushbrook said cafes and restaurants were busy, cycle trails were bustling and accommodation providers were taking bookings, which had collectively created a positive outlook.

Twelve months ago, the situation for all regions and sectors had looked grim.

Central Otago was not immune.

Mr Rushbrook initially prepared for what other regions, such as the West Coast, were now experiencing, as tourism numbers declined dramatically. However, the district continues to be a popular holiday destination.

Waipiata Country Hotel owners Mark and Nikki Button, who also own Tussock Lodge Waipiata, are on track for one of their busiest years.

They bought the lodge more than nine years ago and the hotel six years ago.

Bookings for their accommodation so far this year are consistent up until mid-May.

Mr Button said their businesses and the wider community had also been boosted by the fact New Zealanders were spending more, on average, than international travellers spent when the borders were open.

When reflecting on what life was like a year ago, Mr Button, like many people, had a very different outlook.

‘‘I was sitting on the deck looking at the sky wondering what was going to happen.
‘‘We had 150 cancellations come through in a day.’’

He said 50% of those people had rebooked, some three times due to Auckland’s seesawing alert levels.

When New Zealand was reduced to Alert Level 3 on April 27, takeaway meals were allowed to be sold.

The Buttons made the most of the opportunity and so did their community.

‘‘As soon as we hit Level 3 we set ourselves up as a takeaway business and did 500 to 700 meals a week.’’

As a result, the business was tracking 60% ahead of the same time the previous year.

‘‘Maniototo is an amazing community. It supports the businesses really, really well
— it’s the greatest, positive thing [to come out of Covid-19].’’

Oturehua Railway Hotel owners Grahame and Liz Jones were also feeling the effects of high visitor numbers.

They have had a full house the past month to six weeks and have a steady flow of bookings in the restaurant.

‘‘It’s very, very busy,’’ Mr Jones said.

He appreciated not every community was doing as well due to Covid-19. ‘‘We are very, very lucky.’’

Although the Otago Central Rail Trail was a great drawcard, cyclists were not the only people providing a boost to the town, he said.

Alternatively, a large number of people were hiring rental cars and campervans.

He said the town had also grown in population in recent times. ‘‘We had about 26 permanent residents here two years ago, now we’ve got close to 60.’’

Mr Rushbrook said Tourism Central Otago was working hard to benefit not only visitors, but also locals.

‘‘We want to make sure [tourism] is enhancing the lives of people who live here and enriching the place and its natural environment.

‘‘If we get that right, then we enrich the lives of the visitors coming through.’’

Central Otago was not just a place people wanted to play — it was also an attractive place among jobseekers.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show the number of people looking for work in the district is the lowest it has been since the nationwide Alert Level 3 lockdown ended in May.

Since then, jobseeker numbers have dropped 44%.

Seasonal work, including the summer fruit harvest, was among the reasons for the economic turnaround.