31 Mar 2020

How tourist hot spot Queenstown is surviving the lockdown

4:57 pm on 31 March 2020

Queenstown will have to try to sustain itself on domestic tourism as it looks towards a future with no international tourists arriving.

Colored crosswalk and people in street of city after dusk showing the character of famous tourist spot.

A street in Queenstown. Photo: 123rf

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker said the spread of Covid-19 would likely continue for one to two years around the globe, so visitors to New Zealand would need to be restricted for some time.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern too has said border restrictions around the world would return to normal only after a vaccine was found.

Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult told Morning Report the general feedback he was getting from operators was that they were preparing for the lockdown to go on longer than four weeks.

"However, they're coping where they can, reducing costs obviously, and preparing themselves to start in business again, when the lockdown finishes," he said.

"Our district is tourism. Only two industries here tourism and construction.

"Construction is very much the trailer on the back of tourism. So, everybody is a bit shell-shocked here at the present time."

Jim Boult Queenstown Mayor

Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult. Photo: supplied

He said international visitors might only return at the end of the year and until then the town might have to rely on domestic travellers.

"We're not going to see international visitors in any numbers here for a while. Possibly, maybe later this year, we might see some starting to come back through to next year. We're going to have to rely very much on the domestic markets for the remainder of the current year."

Last year Queenstown had about 3.3 million visitors and 50 percent of it was made up by the domestic market, he said.

"So please all those 50 percent, please come and see us," he said.

"Also conscious of the fact that Kiwis won't be travelling overseas. So if we have a ski season, skiing in our part of the world might be a really good thing. We're a pretty good place to come to year-round. So, yes, we'll be very much hoping to see Kiwis here in numbers."

As for the city's transient and migrant workers, he said, a large number had already left.

But those that were still struggling to find jobs or worried about losing accommodation, he said there was an online database set up.

After a conversation Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway he said he got assurance that they could apply for a hardship grant and probably get it so "we're quite pleased that they'll have somewhere to go".

"The community's always also wrapped around them as well. We've arranged a system of vouchers for food parcels for them as well."

Airbnb he said was "pretty much dead in the water and it will be a long time before it recovers".

"I guess the only upside from that will be the term housing for those wanting to rent will probably be a lot easier to get and perhaps a lot more affordable."

He said the lockdown had made the town think about what else it could do other than just straight tourism.

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