Article for CIC magazine written by Chris McCarthy print media officer New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Assn.
Due to rigorous containment measures by the New Zealand Government and an adherence to these measures by the New Zealand populace, we are well placed as a nation to have the Covid-19 pandemic under control by mid-2020.
New Zealand has united as a country to beat this pandemic, with a view to being rid of the virus as soon as possible so we can get back to our normal way of life. For us, this includes the outdoors, National Parks, pristine mountains and rivers, our game animals and the hunting of them on a recreational and commercial basis.
Unfortunately, the timing of the virus (which reached New Zealand in late February) could not have been worse for our guided hunting industry. Late February is the start of our hunting season and many outfitters were 3-4 weeks into their 2020 programmes when our borders were closed. Clients already in New Zealand were sent home and no further clients could travel to the country.
As of early May our borders are still closed, but internal travel has started to free up. The first positive step towards normality was on April 28, as we moved from level 4, our highest alert level (self isolation) down to level 3, which allows regional travel movement and some industries, such as construction, to get back to work.
Unfortunately, the alert level has little significance to the New Zealand tourism industry. With our borders closed, tourism, including guided hunting, has ceased and will not start again until our borders reopen.
Since 2014, New Zealand has experienced a tourism boom; in 2019 our country received over 3.8 million tourists. To put that in perspective, the population is only 4.5 million. Agriculture and tourism are the backbone of our country, with 1 in 11 people employed in the tourism industry, which was projected to be worth $39 billion to the economy by 2025.
These numbers seem impressive; but no one saw Covid-19 coming. When we did see it, New Zealand did everything we could to minimise the impact, care for the health of our citizens and get our country through this pandemic as quickly as possible; for this we have received international praise.
Covid-19 really has ‘thrown a spanner in the work.’ It hasn’t just ‘upset the apple cart’ – it’s flipped it upside down entirely. While the Government has rolled out a 12 week compensation package to help businesses, we are getting to the back end of that period now. A huge lay off of staff is inevitable for the tourism industry, and unemployment is expected to reach 10%. Before the virus, unemployment was at an 11 year low of 3.9%.
All members of the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association (NZPHGA) have been hit hard by the impacts of Covid-19. 2020 is now the season that never happened, and we are all looking forward to a busy season next year. Our members have had to roll this season’s bookings over into 2021, which disrupted the full, and healthy, bookings of many members. Condensing two seasons into one will provide challenges, but also opportunities, particularly for experienced guides who will be sought after by outfitters.
Hunters are tough people. Success comes from time in the field, and requires determination, adaptability, and the ability to think quickly. This is no different for hunting outfitters. While one week of hunting is often tough enough, our members hunt anywhere from a 3-6 months per season, and in all conditions. We are tough people, and this industry is not for the weak, the self doubters or those who are not prepared to back themselves in times of adversity.
Many New Zealand hunting operations are well diversified and exist alongside farming or other businesses, such as construction. These operations will pop through the other side of the Covid-19 wave without being pushed around too much. It’s those that are solely reliant on hunting or tourism that will suffer the most. Some of our members will have to put their hunting operations on hold and turn to other means of income until our borders reopen.
Those who will come through this the best will be operators with high equity levels in their hunting businesses. They will be using this time to rebuild, upgrade their current operations and even grow, so they can ‘slingshot’ themselves out the other side of this pandemic.
So what can the NPHGA do to turn the negative impacts of Covid-19 into positive outcomes?
What we have on our hands right now is time, which is something we never have during this period of the year. We now have a chance to look at our hunting businesses, and improve, adjust and plan for the 2021 season.
Right now, we have a lot of uncertainty. Will there be a 2021 season? Common sense would suggest so, but it is an unknown. When will we have a vaccine? I see no reason why borders will not open between countries that have eliminated the virus. Eliminate and eradicate have two different meanings with respect to the virus. Eradication may be impossible. Elimination, whereby a small number of cases keep occurring and dealt with swiftly, may be as good as it gets.
The New Zealand-Australian border will likely be the first to reopen. Australian hunters make up about 5% of the international hunters who come to New Zealand, and this will certainly help hunting outfitters. However, the key to keeping New Zealand’s hunting industry buoyant is the American market, as 80% of our hunters come from the US. In this respect we are vulnerable, due to the high rate of infection in the US.
Many European hunters see New Zealand as too far to go, but our isolation is now our biggest asset. At the time of writing, Covid-19 was eliminated within a 5 week period, with a current rate of infection of under 0.5, meaning that for every infected person we now have under half a person being infected.
As of right now, New Zealand is undoubtedly the safest hunting destination on the planet! Also, our game herds have come through the 2020 rutting season mostly un-hunted.
Our membership offers a range of hunting opportunities from soft adventure, luxury, lodge-based hunts to serious cabin and tent based wilderness hunts. As our website www.nzphga.com explains, it is up to the hunter to research and enquire about which hunt is right for them. Within our membership, we will have the right outfitter and the right hunt for you, whether it be on a managed game estate, a managed free-range property or our public lands.
If you haven’t made the journey to New Zealand to experience our ‘kiwi’ hospitality, world class game animals and incredible mountain hunts, you need to think about it. If you are worried about Covid-19 and travel restrictions, most outfitters will allow you to roll your deposit to a following season. Hunting in New Zealand has never been better. Is it too far to travel? I will leave that up to you.
The first international hunters to visit our shores were from the United Kingdom around the turn of the 20th century. They travelled 40 arduous days by steam ship to reach New Zealand’s shores to hunt our world class red stags and a further 40 days home again. These days flying time from most major European cities is 24-28 hrs.