On Tuesday April 26 well known Rotorua bistro bar operator, Reg Hennessy, of Hennessy’s Irish Bar addressed the Epidemic Response Committee, chaired by the leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. His submission provided insight into the dilemma and problems experienced first hand by the hospitality industry in one of New Zealand’s most popular and tourism reliant cities.

The committee comprises representatives of all political parties and provides a forum for the nation to be heard and present concerns to the Government.

Hennessy said a key issue facing the industry was the apparent lack of Government guidance and support relating to commercial leases. Following the submission the Government has announced today measures to support commercial tenants and landlords and $25 million to further support businesses over the next year. Details of how this will be distributed are yet to be announced and we will update you as they come to hand.

Below Hospitality Business reproduces Reg Hennessy’s heart felt and passionate submission, providing food for thought.

Address to Epidemic Response Committee – By Reg Hennessy

I have been in this industry for 35 years. Along with my partner we operate Hennessy’s Irish Bar in the heart of the Rotorua CBD. It is a vibrant & busy Irish bar.

At the time of shutting the door on Tuesday March 24th we employed 14 staff. The importance of the survival of businesses like ours which support employment and vibrancy in Rotorua can’t be overstated.

In 2016 Hennessy’s had to be totally demolished and rebuilt to meet Earthquake standards, at a huge cost to both the Landlord and tenant. Once again in a time of crisis the government is telling Small and Medium Business owners to go to the banks and borrow money, to get through a situation we could never have planned for.

This is money to pay everyday running costs which can run into many thousands of dollars per month – even while in lockdown. The way this has been described by the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson you would think that all we need to do is go to the bank and get the money.

This is very misleading. There is no handout to businesses, and for operators who are already under huge stress through this lockdown to be told by banks they don’t qualify for any financial support is intolerable.

Banks are treating this Government Plan to help Businesses as just another commercial loan. And when we hear daily that we are being paid a wage subsidy and have access to money it’s just not right. All the wage subsidy must go to our staff.

 At the moment I’m sure the biggest issue facing our industry and most small businesses across NZ is rent. Paying rent for a property which is unable to be occupied for a business which can’t trade has left us in a very difficult situation and the Government appears to not want to help or get involved – apart from telling us to be kind, which is not a solution.

I cannot understand why our Government didn’t take Australia’s lead and implement a ‘Code of Conduct’ around Commercial Rents. The Lockdown situation is unprecedented and beyond the intended scope of any lease agreement. Unless the government steps in to help Commercial Tenants and Landlords through this (excuse my language here) we are heading for one huge s**t fight. The only possible winners out of this will be Commercial Lawyers.

I have had many conversations over the last four weeks with operators both in hospitality and tourism who are struggling with this and are deeply concerned. They have no idea what to do or where to go.

I’d also like to talk about a major issue that really keeps me awake at night. and that is what is going to happen to our town, and many other towns across NZ when all the businesses whether retail or hospitality, tourism or accommodation fail to re-open – and if they can re-open, the many that will then fail through the up-coming winter?

I imagine walking out the front doors of Hennessy’s say in late July, early August on a shocking Winter’s day and seeing how many empty shops – tourist outlets, restaurants, Bars, Pubs closed!! SCARY.

Every time I pick up the paper, turn on the TV, read online all we seem to hear in planning for the future is the stay home message. Work from home, shop from home, order your takeaway from home, purchase online and order your next restaurant experience from home.

The ‘new’ hospitality industry appears to be who can offer the best online meal deals on four wheels. This seems to be a huge message to isolate ourselves, both in work and life. I am really concerned for the social fabric of NZ as this message is supported by an incredible lack of understanding of the importance of Small and Medium Businesses and how they run as demonstrated by Government MP Deborah Russell last week.

Like every small business operator I found her comments offensive, inaccurate and ignorant. But most sobering because she articulated a belief we see time and time again, a bias against us. We are human beings too, who have believe it or not feelings & families.

A last word on this – over 25% of GDP comes from Small and Medium Businesses. Maybe Minister Stuart Nash needs to be reminded of this too. It is not healthy for our community’s mental health to lose Pubs, Bars and Restaurants and even our retail outlets where people love to connect.

As we go in to Level 2 it is vital that we retain these familiar venues.

To summarise, as small business owners we have had no income since lock down. We have administered to our staff the wage subsidy but soon many will be in a place where they are forced to let staff go.

It now appears we are not going to receive any support from Government and instead left in a queue at the banks.

My greatest concern is how we get out of this place and is enough thought and planning being given to life on the other side. Hennessy’s will not be opening our doors again until we go to level two. It is totally impractical for us to open at level three for home deliveries. After all we are a pub who sells the hospitality experience, we have wonderful staff who love their jobs. Those things cannot be delivered on four wheels.

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