10 May 2020

'Resilient crowd': Tourism town eager to welcome more NZ visitors

4:09 pm on 10 May 2020

Queenstown tourist operators are gearing up to welcome back tourists to the once thriving town.

Queenstown gondola.

Some attractions have closed but the gondola will be operating as Queenstown tries to recover from the pandemic's impact. Photo: Flickr / Eli Duke

Thursday's announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that domestic travel will be allowed when the country moves into alert level 2, has been met with positivity and relief by many in Queenstown.

Ann Lockhart, the interim chief executive of Destination Queenstown (DQ) said while not a silver bullet, the announcement means the region can start getting geared up.

"The reaction from members is positive but there is an element of 'wait and see'. The government has indicated that level two may be rolled out in various phases, so it will be difficult for some restaurants and cafes to be financially viable but this is definitely a step in the right direction.''

DQ has already started work on a domestic campaign with a focus on local products and activities.

"With the advent of flights and a strong possibility of a winter season we're looking forward to running a winter campaign to bring people from wider New Zealand to Queenstown.''

While the annual Queenstown Winter Festival has been cancelled because of Covid-19, DQ has plans for another event in spring to bring locals and domestic visitors from further afield into the town.

"We will be actively in the market encouraging visitors to come here. And I imagine there'll be some very favourable packages for people to take advantage of.''

While Ngāi Tahu Tourism has mothballed most of its tourist operations, including one of the country's most well known rides, the Shotover Jet, Lockhart said visitors will still find activities the town is well known for.

"I'm fairly sure you'll find that by June/July and the proper winter season gets under way that we will have the Earnslaw sailing, the gondola will be going up the hill.

"There is a possibility that the Shotover Jet may come back but we do have other jet boats such as K Jet, so there will be plenty for people.''

Conversely, Lockhart said she's also aware that's it's not going to be possible for some bars to open, under current guidelines.

"Each business will make up its own mind but I just come back to the fact a ski season will enable a broader range of businesses to look at reopening.''

In the meantime, while the industry waits for confirmation of a trans-Tasman bubble, the focus will be on the domestic market.

Lockhart said 30 percent of business in Queenstown has always been domestic "so it's not as if this is a brand new market for us".

"But some businesses are obviously more weighted to the international market and they'll take longer [to rebound].''

In the meantime employers continue to look at staffing.

"It's been a changing environment week to week, day to day that is a difficulty for employers to plan.

"What does it look like in three months or six months? But having said that Queenstown has been through the GFC [global financial crisis] and SARS and lots of peaks and troughs over the years and we're a resilient crowd.

"And the industry will find ways to come back.''

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In the past 30 percent of tourism business in Queenstown has been domestic. Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

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