Spring 2020. The Return of the Weekend Warrior

1988 and the rafting season was pumping. Well, pumping (busy) that is, for that time and place. Set out below is what a typical week looked like for a rafting and adventure lodge business in those times:

Monday – housekeeping, cleaning up after the weekend

Tuesday – Repairs and Maintenance, admin type jobs

Wednesday – possibly a small river trip, otherwise undertaking other chores around the Lodge and grounds

Thursday – numbers are in for the weekend – who is going to raft guide? Who is going to cook? Who is going to work bar?

Friday – near panic phone calls trying to get a crew together to work the weekend. Rush around to get the Lodge ready for guests. Guides often driving several hundred kilometres to be prepared for action over the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday – busy with raft trips, meals and looking after guests

Repeat at varying intensity for about five months. Nothing much going on for the next seven months, except trying to keep the financial wolf away from the door.

an early rafting trip leaving from the homestead

Compare this with the same business in 2020 pre-COVID-19:

Monday to Sunday – crew, all on the roster. Daily, the team, who are either permanent full-time, seasonal full time, or permanent part-time are guiding river trips or horse treks. Others are housekeeping, working bar, working in the kitchen or gardens, welcoming guests in reception, sorting out urgent repairs and maintenance or doing any of the other chores or 1001 administration jobs that a business such as River Valley required. Ask any of them what day of the week it is, and most likely they would not know.

Weekly repeat for seven months, with quieter activity over the other five months.

Some of the River Valley Staff 2020

What I have laid out above is the stark contrast between how a future return to the past of relying on domestic tourism and how tourism businesses, where international arrivals filled the gaps, operated just before the COVID pandemic.

Domestic tourism, no matter how it is dressed up, will mean weekends, public holidays, school holidays, and several weeks over Christmas and New Year could be busy. Getting enough staff to work the Christmas – New Year period, a time when many Kiwis traditionally take their annual holiday may be especially challenging.

A question that does not seem to have been asked is where will all these part-time or casual staff, these Weekend Warriors, come from, especially in areas that require specialist skills, such as raft guiding? Many skilled workers are already leaving the tourism industry, either by being made redundant or seeing the writing on the wall and opting for retraining in another vocation.

A puzzle for so many businesses, such as River Valley, who wish to keep more core permanent staff employed, is how to do this profitably over the inevitable quieter periods, which may be Monday to Friday a good deal of the time.

Looking back over the last 34 years, a time during which the tourism industry in New Zealand has increased in size by at least a factor of six, one thing that I certainly do not miss is the stress of the weekly round of phone calls as we tried to get enough people to work each weekend. In the past, we dragged in family, friends and anybody else who made the mistake of answering their telephone.

I do not think that the tourism industry has yet to fully realise the decades of skills and experience that we are in the process of losing, nor exactly how we will manage shorter, but possibly hectic periods.

Maybe a two day work week for the rest of the population, allowing plenty of vacation time, is the answer?????

Brian Megaw

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