‘Heartbreaking’ 15 staff lose jobs as iconic Lakeland Queen goes into ‘indefinite hibernation’

Fifteen staff have been made redundant in the “heartbreaking” decision to put the iconic Lakeland Queen into “indefinite hibernation”.

The boat was removed from Lake Rotorua today after 30 years of taking customers on a dine and cruise around the lake.

Manager Markus Pietfel was part of the decision-making process and said the business was expected to be in hibernation until at least mid-next year.

However, it would remain shut as long as the borders were closed to international tourists, he said.

There were multiple factors that played against the business; the lakefront developments and the lockdown in Auckland after already losing their “really important” international customers.

“It was a combination of everything at the end of the day,” he said.

After the first lockdown last year, the business lost about 90 per cent of its customers.

“But then we started building up with the local domestic market … but it was not strong enough to keep the business afloat and up and running.”

Pietfel said Auckland was the biggest local market and having the region locked down had been too much for the businesses to cope without.

The 15 staff on deck have been made redundant. Some had already found other work, but others were still looking, he said.

“It was really hard. Everybody showed up for work every day and now you have to say to them ‘I don’t need you anymore’,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking. It is a family, everyone worked together, we had a really good team.”

Of the staff who had lost their jobs, Pietfel had had the longest stint at the business with 11 years under his belt. It was his first job when he moved to the city, and he never left.

“It was a nice place; busy and bustling, we had so many different kinds of customers. It was a pleasure to work here.”

He will stay on for a short while now the boat was out of the water, tying up loose ends.

Pietfel said he was unsure where he may end up once he left, but he was more worried about the staff that hadn’t found a job yet.

He said while they could try and rehire the old staff when it opened again, it was not likely they would be hanging around until then as it was unclear when that might be.

“At the end of the day, we have to say thank you for the support from Rotorua.

“Unfortunately, we can’t keep going. It’s not possible.”

In 1986, brothers Doug and Ian Stewart – co-owners of Lakeland Steel Products – had the idea to build and operate a floating restaurant on the lakefront of Lake Rotorua.

Due to uncertainty about when the border is reopening, the team has made the hard decision of putting the Lakeland Queen…

Construction started in February that year and, when completed, the vessel was 22m long, 8m wide and 1.4m deep.

It was transported in October and two powerful cranes moved the 50 tonne boat into the lake and the first maiden voyage was in November, taking passengers out to dine and cruise.

In 2006, the Lady of the Lake received a major refit and the overall length increased to 32m.

More to come.

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