Businesses in Auckland say a voucher scheme to entice locals to explore their own backyards has been a lifeline after the lockdown.
The government-funded $9 million Explore Tāmaki Makaurau program was launched late last year, offering 100,000 vouchers to tourist attractions in the region.
Those who applied were entered into a lottery. There were around 11,000 vouchers left and a bonus draw on Tuesday.
Paradice Entertainment offers ice skating, mini golf, escape rooms and laser tag, and was closed with no revenue during Auckland’s lockdowns.
Now they face a red-light limit of 100 people.
But Paradice Entertainment chief executive Chris Blong said the voucher system is helping.
“It’s been a good proportion of the number of people that have come through, so I think rather than having a big, big drop with this outbreak of Omicron, it’s really helped us get to those 100 limits.
“It’s been a bit of a lifeline over the past few months.”
It’s been great for word of mouth and encouraging new people into the business, Blong said.
So far, over $7 million has been injected into Auckland’s tourism operators and over 225,000 Aucklanders have signed up for the scheme.
They signed up for the chance to receive either a $100 family voucher or a $50 individual voucher to cover or contribute to the costs of eligible activities and attractions on Bookme.
Auckland nurse Laura Vui was busy preparing for her sister’s wedding day when she received the email telling her she had won a family voucher.
She took her young family to Butterfly Creek – a family attraction boasting saltwater crocodiles, a Butterfly House and a petting zoo.
It wasn’t something that was on his to-do list.
“I had never been there before and never really thought about it to be honest, and it was actually really cool.
“There was so much variety, way more than I expected and there was a petting zoo which was really great for my 18 month old son. He absolutely loved it. It was really cool, would go again without hesitation.”
With the remaining money, the trio took a trip to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.
“Super grateful to have received a voucher and to have been able to do these things. It has really helped us get back into the community and have fun.”
Weta Workshop Unleashed COO Sam Holdich said the timing was impeccable during a slow summer.
The majority of their recent customers were due to the voucher program.
“Without that support, it would have been a very, very difficult time, and it’s still not amazing, but we’re so grateful that it’s happening and that it’s been so popular.”
This allowed them to retain their staff and get them settled before international tourists returned, he said.
They felt more confident about the future, Holdich said.
“It has basically helped us get through the worst and the end – we hope – of this pandemic and the effect it has had on the tourism industry.
“Now that we can look to the future and the borders are opening up, now is the perfect time.”
Auckland Unlimited ran the scheme, which was part of the government’s $37.5 million support package for the reactivation of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
Its chief investment and industry officer, Pam Ford, said it has given businesses hope and a financial boost while providing fun experiences for locals.
“This program is really what Auckland needed at a time when businesses were doing it really hard and looking ahead to a summer that was really going to be game-changing for a lot of them.”
It has extended the end date of the program so people can make their reservations until the end of June.
The exchange of vouchers has been fairly consistent over the four draws, she said.
“So we have 11,000 vouchers left from the previous four draws and we want to see as many of those 100,000 vouchers as possible used by whānau and his friends to profit from the experiences and therefore this funding to access tourism businesses.”
Aucklanders would be contacted on Tuesday if they manage to secure a voucher in the draw.