Matariki Wilson should have been welcoming tourists to the Aitutaki Pursuit in Paradise this week.
Instead, at 6 o’clock yesterday morning, she was working her way along the check-in queue in a darkened Rarotonga Airport, trying to find her customers and get them on one of the last planes out of Cook Islands.
Wilson is one of 62 staff at Turama Pacific and its subsidiaries, who have been told they will not have work after this week.
But that doesn’t stop them caring.
Company founder Robert Skews arrived at the airport soon after. “I wasn’t expecting to see Matariki was there, but I’m not surprised. It shows the dedication and support the Turama family has in itself,” he said.
“We’re at the stage of making sure our clients are off the beach and off the island – but the staff know this is their last week at work.”
Skews broke the bad news to most of his staff before they left for the weekend, but was still letting the last few know yesterday. 39 full-timers, 23 part-timers – and no customers.
It comes as:
· Prime Minister Henry Puna announces 14 days’ supervised quarantine for anyone entering the country now – no more “voluntary” self-quarantine.
· The Pa Enua schools are off on holiday from Tuesday, for a month, after the influx of travellers on Friday sparked concern about managing the Covid-19 risk there;
· Rarotonga Hospital’s emergency department is closed down entirely to prepare for coronavirus; services are moved to Tupapa outpatients clinic;
· New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that country’s risk status will go the maximum 4 today, with more than 100 coronavirus cases.
· The New Zealand High Commission announces a short window for foreign nationals to get out of the country by transiting via Auckland.
The company Robert Skews and his late wife Mousie built up into a pan-Pacific tourism powerhouse, with a budgeted turnover of $14 million this year – it now has nil revenue.
Skews is looking forward to seeing the details of the government’s relief package. He hopes to keep a small number of staff working on some system admin redesign work they already have underway, and will top them up above the minimum wage.
He’s especially worried about part-timers (at this stage, the government has announced no support for them) and expat workers from nations like Fiji and the Philippines. “I feel very, very concerned for all the ethnic communities here,” he said.
“They should be looking at a charter flight to get them home – but then, what happens when they get there?”
On Friday, the owner of The Rarotongan group of resorts, employing 250 people, announced he would be mothballing his three hotels on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
“I agree with Tata Crocombe, even if Covid lasts just three or six months, it’s going to take at least another 12 months to rebuild. It’s doing to be a long slow process to get back to anywhere near where we were a month ago.”
He anticipates a shutdown of at least 5 or 6 months, but says it is guesswork.
“You have to be proactive, you have to make the decisions, and you have to make them now. I could see we wouldn’t have any money coming in.”