Urgent visa changes needed to save New Zealand ski industry

Groomers for days. Mt Ruapehu. Image supplied.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) CEO, Jono Dean, is calling for the New Zealand government to lift border restrictions so skilled overseas workers can work in the country’s ski fields this season.

Mt Ruapehu is home to Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields, the largest in New Zealand and the resorts of choice for weekend jaunts from Auckland and Wellington.

Dean believes the current restrictions stopping skilled workers coming into the country are hampering the recovery of the country’s ski industry, along with the slow approval of working holiday visa extensions.

“We cannot adequately meet the demand of a busy ski season ahead without the support from working holiday visas,” explains Dean in a press release distributed to media today.

“It seems there is a misalignment between the reality of the business need on the ground and the urgency for Government to support the critical tourism and hospitality sectors trying their hardest to work towards an economic recovery.

“We’ve been waiting for months for Immigration New Zealand to lift these restrictions but nothing has been done and it’s seriously threatening our ability to open parts of Mt Ruapehu’s ski fields this winter.

“We have 5 overseas staff – a groomer operator and 4 specialist ski instructors – hanging in limbo awaiting confirmation of their visas – and with the rest of the world opening its borders again to foreign workers they won’t wait for us forever.

“We’re not the only ski area to be in this situation the South Island ski fields are in exactly the same position.”

RAL applied through SAANZ’s (Ski Association of New Zealand) procedures for a specific Groomer operator position in mid-April and then Ski Instructors in May.

“There are simply not the skills locally to fulfil these technical roles from specialist operators or skilled people and we’ve had little to no response or even acknowledgement of the lodging of these individual applications.”

Dean also says that working holiday visas are just as important to fulfil roles in restaurants and cafes on the mountain, vital roles to operate ski fields.

“The hospitality and tourism sector has been screaming out for additional resources since the end of the lockdown over a year ago and Government has continually dragged the chain about announcing any extensions for working holiday visas.

“It’s disappointing that we have to wait until the 11th hour to hear whether these much needed resources could be available for the 2021 winter season. Chefs and cooks are at a critical level, so much so that cooks have been placed on the critical shortage list allowing them to be considered for key kitchen positions, however the delays are preventing their applications from progressing.”

RAL job application numbers are down by 40 percent compared to 2019, which was a healthy ski season environment.  There is a marked shortage of specific skilled areas such as Food and Beverage (chefs/cooks), Groomer Operators, Skilled Ski Instructors, and those with supervisory experience.

“We have a number of initiatives in place to focus on training and boosting staff experience this year but we still require a number of experienced staff to provide this training. As an example we have an Apprentice Ski Instructor Programme in place for late June, however we’ve seen very few experienced instructors apply for positions.

“This means with the lack of instructors that the ability to deliver ski lessons is at risk.  Based on an instructor group of 40 we would ideally have 8-12 Level 3 instructors. We have only had 2 x Level 3 instructors who are in New Zealand and are New Zealand residents apply for roles.

“Of our Groomer Operator applicants, we didn’t have enough local resident applications to meet operational requirements and even of those applicants, only half of them had any relevant experience.”

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