With just a couple of days left until Christmas, I can appreciate that politics is not exactly the topic du jour, so rather than focus on legislation and law-making, I want to focus on this region and where we find ourselves this festive season.
While many locals will be busy getting the final ingredients and supplies ready for the Christmas Day menu and will be popping out to get those last-minute gifts for visiting family and friends, there will be people all over New Zealand packing their bags to make the trip to Central Otago for the holiday period.
We all know how Central swells at this time of year as people make a beeline for our lakes, festivals and trails.
Our streets are getting busier, and we can expect an influx of boats, jet skis and trailers in the days and weeks to come.
I’ve been hearing a lot from business owners around the region who are struggling to find the staff they need to operate at full capacity this summer and cater to those coming in from out of town.
This isn’t an issue that’s just cropped up — the hospitality and tourism sector has signalled this crisis for 12 months, and my colleagues and I have raised concerns on behalf of local businesses with government ministers all year.
The loss of the migrant workforce during the pandemic is still being felt and while working holiday-makers are starting to return, it’s not at the level required to plug the many gaps we have across multiple sectors.
The latest Stats NZ report for October shows that overseas visitors are returning in decent numbers with the biggest increases coming from the Australian and American markets. These are positive signs that will be welcomed by many.
We want these people to have a wonderful experience, but in order for that to happen, we need our restaurants and bars to be fully staffed to cater for those wanting to enjoy the local hospitality.
The critical shortage of workers risks undermining that experience which is a terrible shame.
I take my hat off to business owners who are working long hours trying to keep their doors open and who are doing everything they can think of to try to attract workers to the area.
At this time of year, I also think of those who will be working over the Christmas period — the emergency responders on call, the doctors and nurses at the hospitals and medical centres, and the growers keeping a close eye on their crops and on the weather forecasts at this critical time.
And for those who’ve worked hard all year and who just want to put their feet up for a well-earned break — I hope you can do just that and enjoy every minute of it!
May all readers of The News have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
Enjoy spending time with those you love.