As leisure facilities in every state around Australia are preparing to reopen under COVID-19 restrictions, New Zealand came out of lockdown last month and have this week reported zero new cases of COVID-19 and a lifting of all restrictions from Tuesday the 9th of June. Mark Blake, General Manager New Zealand, shares some of the learnings from New Zealand’s approach to lockdown and how it affected leisure centres in the country.
“In the end it was a bit of a rush as we reopened far quicker than anticipated,” said Mark. “The team had planned in advance with detailed social distancing plans and regulations, cleaning processes and contact tracing processes. Visitor numbers allowed in New Zealand have been far greater than in Australia and with the reduced demand, there was no need to implement control numbers, which is quite unfortunate. But the low traffic within our centres meant that social distancing was not too much of an issue.”
The New Zealand teams remained connected with one another during the lockdown period which began on the 23rd of March. The management team and some coordinators met virtually via Teams three times a week to ensure they remained in constant contact. Belgravia Leisure CEO Nick Cox and Mark Blake ran fortnightly meetings with the broader New Zealand team to keep them updated on any developments during lockdown. “In New Zealand we were lucky enough to have 80% of pay covered for the full lockdown and all centres are now operating and thus back on full pay. The stress for the team has been more around what lies ahead rather than the lockdown itself,” said Mark.
The return to normal felt like a slow process for the New Zealand team but visitor numbers have been going up every day. In the first week, they only had 25% of normal traffic within facilities but this week, they are expecting to get back to around 80% and the team expects a return to at least 80% of traffic within the next two weeks. However, they anticipate that getting the last 20% of members to return will be the challenge.
The NZ team also faced the additional challenge of IT issues during the week of reopening but the team were able to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive by calling every customer who had been currently using their facilities so that they could add a personal touch to their communications. “We had to reduce some classes which was met with some criticism from members but we had to balance expenditure of programs with low numbers so it was a difficult but considered decision. With that in mind, we’re looking at going back to business as usual for everything including classes by next week.”
When asked if he would do anything differently if he had been given a chance to change anything during the lockdown period, Mark said, “I think the government nailed it with their COVID-19 strategy as our rules have been so distinct and clear. Wage support has been great so suffering for our team and business has been minimal so far. It was actually worse before the lockdown as visitor numbers decreased. The challenge will be in the months ahead but also the opportunities that could arise. With more people working from home and most of our facilities being regional perhaps we can get more daytime customers. Already some competitors have failed to open and we have seen a mini surge in new memberships at Franklin in particular. Going forward we are ensuring we continue to sustain our strong financial position and look for opportunities. Still some tough months to go but we look forward to 2021 with reserved enthusiasm.”