Challenges remain . . . Waitaki events advisory board chairwoman Jan Kennedy. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

It is looking like a long winter for hospitality operators and event organisers, despite the opening of borders and easing of Covid restrictions.

Last month, outdoor gathering limits were lifted and indoor limits raised to 200 from 100, and on Monday, vaccine pass and scanning requirements were scrapped, except for health and disability, aged care, corrections and border workforces.

Waitaki events advisory board chairwoman Jan Kennedy, who also manages Steampunk HQ and serves as chairwoman of the Waitaki Tourism Association, said despite the changes, there was little promise of previously cancelled events returning this winter.

The Steampunk NZ Festival, traditionally held at Queen’s Birthday Weekend, would not be back this year.

‘‘The Steampunk decision was made a little while ago, just knowing that Covid was going to become an issue . . . they sort of had to make that decision early enough on,’’ Mrs Kennedy said.

‘‘I think . . . it will be unlikely that our tourism numbers, even our domestic numbers will be that high come Queen’s Birthday Weekend.

‘‘You know the town’s never been quieter, the tourism business has never been quieter . . . going into winter.’’

Mrs Kennedy said while tourism operators were trying to be optimistic visitor numbers would increase, they did not expect a big change until spring.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope, with November’s Victorian Heritage Celebrations still ‘‘tentatively’’ happening.

‘‘I think it’s fantastic if we can get some events back up and running. It’s going to create that vibrancy that we really need in town.’’

Sally-Ann Donnelly, who operates private events in the Loan and Mercantile building and owns Fat Sally’s Pub and Restaurant, said the easing of number restrictions indoors was a ‘‘pleasant change’’, but the fact people had to remain seated in pubs was ‘‘an absolute nightmare’’ for hospitality.

‘‘Also there’s a huge fear out there in the community, especially by immune-compromised and elderly, about going out, so business hasn’t been that great, really.’’

She thought the removal of vaccine pass requirements would not lift business.

‘‘If anything, it’s probably going to add more fear to the immune-compromised.’’

Mrs Donnelly said she was trying to stay positive.

‘‘I want to believe in positivity. I want to think, ‘Yes, it’s going to be amazing’, but the reality of it is, it’s probably going to be a long winter.’’