5 May 2020

'We've got to open the door for them': Queenstown mayor pushing to be open for business

7:33 am on 5 May 2020

Queenstown must be seen to be open for business if it wants to continue to attract tourists to the town, its mayor says.

Queenstown in New Zealand, South Island

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult says he had been telling operators the town needs to be "seen to be open for business". Photo: 123RF

Covid-19 has laid Queenstown's once thriving economy flat, with a projected unemployment rate of up to 30 percent and a forecast humanitarian crisis of migrant workers.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult is well-versed in summing up the state of the town in a no-nonsense, understated manner.

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult.

Jim Boult. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

"Things aren't good. The reality is economic activity here has virtually ceased. Under level 3 we can go out and get a cup of coffee, builders have gone back to work, tradies are back at work but the rest of us are in lockdown at home.

"Tourism businesses are shut and that is the driver of our economy. With tourism businesses shut, there is nothing happening.''

But he said there was little point sitting around wringing hands, and above all, remaining positive was a must.

"We have been dealt a hand, and we've got to play it. So our effort is into how we get our business activity going again. We need to ensure we can enable our residents to put a meal on the table for their families, and pay their rent and mortgages.''

Part of that hand playing was to try to get travel restrictions lifted or eased under alert level 2.

The government spent Monday in Cabinet discussing what life would look like under alert level 2, but the country will not find out until next Monday when we will enter the new level.

The prime minister is expected to outline the rules for level 2 on Thursday.

Boult said there needed to be an easing of travel restrictions that would enable domestic tourism to restart, careful consideration of a trans-Tasman bubble and a reconsideration of the crowd restrictions for ski fields.

"We're sort of restricted to two people per hectare of ski terrain and that seems like a bit of overkill. For the ski season I'm looking for a bit of freedom in that regard.''

As tourism operators around the country, including Queenstown, have begun to announce that they will consider mothballing operations, Boult urged caution.

One of the most high profile operators considering mothballing its tourism businesses for the foreseeable future is Ngāi Tahu Tourism.

It operates the Shotover Jet - which Boult used to own - on the Shotover River, with a concession operator's license from the council. That means it has exclusive rights granted by the council to operate tours on the river.

A file photo of a jet boat on the Shotover River near Queenstown.

A Shotover Jet boat. Photo: Destination Queenstown

So what happens if Ngāi Tahu Tourism does pack up its toys until international tourists return?

Would the Queenstown Lakes District Council let another jet boat business operate in its place?

Boult said he had not been told that Ngāi Tahu Tourism would mothball its tourist operations but knew it was one of its considerations.

"I do wonder if they do that.''

But if they did, the "council would need to take some legal advice on that''.

Boult said he had been telling operators around town that "we need to be careful that we are seen to be open for business.

"So the Earnslaw needs to be going across the lake, the gondola needs to be going up and down, the jet boats need to be up and down the river.

"Because would people come here if they can't do those activities? No. We all want people to come back but we've got to open the door for them.''

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs