The government needs to ringfence spots for business in MIQ and look at shortening isolation for fully-vaccinated people if it wants to grow the post-Covid-19 economy, according to one business leader.

Christchurch-based firm Enztec employs about 70 people to design and manufacture high-end medical instruments for the global orthopaedic market.

The company would normally send a team to what it says are vital trade shows in the United States.

The last one it attended resulted in a 25 percent jump in annual turnover.

Enztec boss Iain McMillan says a lack of dedicated business spots in MIQ was costing companies millions. He told Checkpoint why they could not simply make deals over Zoom.

"The medical device business is really heavily based on relationships. It's still maintained that way, and the US market, as it recovers from Covid-19 is really trying to remake those human connections they've been starved of for the last year.

"Obviously it leads to great business opportunities, it's where we cement deals. We don't sell at that trade show but it's where we create opportunities and cement deals that are going to lead to really good revenues in the following years."

McMillan said entering the US was not a problem - but returning to New Zealand was.

"Right now we simply cannot get into MIQ spots… At the moment the MIQ portal is basically fully booked through October."

He said the company had two people sitting at the computer clicking refresh on the booking page every day.

"We have been doing that for weeks at a time. It is actually quite the time sponge… it becomes quite a distraction.

"It will cost us new opportunities. Our customers, large corporates, are worried about supply chain continuity, just as we are within New Zealand.

"Big US corporates are still worried... they start to look at other alternatives domestically within the US or whatnot, and as New Zealand we missed out on contracts."

He said MIQ's official numbers show there are unallocated rooms in facilities.

"Actually a really large percentage of the beds, seem to be unspoken for at any point in time.

"While we absolutely recognise there are lots of legitimate needs for people to get access to them… we'd like to see a portion allocated for business, just as there is a portion allocated for sports teams and entertainment.

"If we set aside 50 beds a month of the 1600 ... that are currently free, for essential business travel, I think that would make a really positive impact for businesses."

McMillan's staff are fully vaccinated as they work at the front line in the health sector. He suggested vaccinated travellers take a pre-departure test, and upon arrival have a shorter duration in quarantine.

"They're saying five days is the incubation period if you're vaccinated. If you did a week quarantine, I think it's still really relevant and valid while the majority of New Zealanders aren't vaccinated.

"We'd like to see a fee allocation for business, just as obviously as an allocation for sports teams or cultural groups such as the Lion King."

Govt invests $60 million in expo, but no help for NZ businesses to get there

Meanwhile the government has spent nearly $60 million on creating a pavilion at the Dubai Expo – billed as the world's largest gathering of industry – but New Zealand businesses are struggling to be able to attend it.

The cluster of Gulf states known as the GCC is New Zealand's fifth largest trading partner.  

The expo was postponed due to Covid-19. It now begins in October and runs through until March.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is encouraging NZ exporters to participate in person and host events at the multi-million-dollar government-funded pavilion in Dubai.

Todd McClay, National's economic development spokesperson, says at the moment MIQ is booked up until October, and getting a Covid-19 vaccination is difficult.

"I'm hearing growing frustration for a number of businesses who really want to be involved, they want to be there on the ground, and they don't know what they should do. In fact they're distressed they're not getting any information from the government," he told Checkpoint.

"Largely there is no information for these businesses, other than 'the border is closed', and if you look on the website it tells them not to travel.

"The really strange thing here is we've had the Trade Minister over in the UK talking about trade. If you are a sports person or an All Black there are special places in managed isolation, and vaccinations available for you.

"But if you're a businessperson that wants to make the most of the taxpayers' $60 million investment in the expo in Dubai, you're left to fend for yourself.

"There are no special isolation places, or no way for them to look and see how they could book later in the year. They're told to line up in a queue with everybody else and hopefully get a vaccination at some stage.

"This is feeling like a huge missed opportunity. The taxpayer should be saying, if the expo is going ahead and the government is still investing this money, shouldn't we be helping Kiwi businesses to get there safely?

"They should be helped when it comes to MIQ… The government has known about this for four years – the expo.

"That was when decisions were made around the investment. We've known about the challenges that Covid-19 have created. To work with the business community about how they might get there would be a good idea."

McClay said the question of prioritising vaccinations was a difficult one, but the number of businesspeople who would need a vaccination to travel to the expo was not many.

"[They] want to be there because they know it's good for New Zealand and good for our economy.

"Surely there must be a way for the government to say, 'we've invested $60 million. Let's work with these people to get them there and make the most of this opportunity'."

He said at the very least, the government should tell businesses whether it wants them to be travelling to Dubai for the expo or not.

Checkpoint approached New Zealand Trade and Enterprise several times for an interview about the expo and the challenges facing NZ business, but it did not have anyone available to be interviewed.

It said it had received expressions of interest from 60 businesses keen to take part in the expo. It said a few businesses had teams on the ground in the region who could take part without long distance travel.

Officials were also exploring options to facilitate MIQ places and access to vaccines for those who needed to travel to the expo, including business delegations, staff and entertainers, it said.