8 Jun 2021

Queenstown, Rotorua celebrate influx of tourists over long weekend

6:32 pm on 8 June 2021

The long weekend brought a glut of tourists to the North and South Island's unofficial tourism capitals, and a sense of optimism for weary operators.

GLENORCHY, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 2018: Tourists visiting the famed red hut at Glenorchy on the banks of Lake Wakatipu

Photo: 123RF

The vast majority of visitors were expected to be New Zealanders, but anecdotally there was evidence the Aussie twang was increasingly common around Queenstown and Rotorua.

Normally Queen's Birthday weekend marked the beginning of winter in the south, but Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said in Queenstown it felt like the start of a long-awaited thaw.

"To use the analogy, we've had a 15-month financial winter - we're seeing the first signs of spring," he said.

"We won't get back to where we were ... until we see the full international markets come back."

But the town was buzzing over the long weekend, Boult said.

"We had the LUMA Festival on and I think that had about 50,000 visitors. We had the music festival on, that brought a number of people in.

"I went into town a couple of times over the weekend - plenty of traffic, lots of people walking around. Pleasantly busy for a change."

Rotorua District Mayor Steve Chadwick said her city was also booming.

"It was heaving actually and even locals said they took it for granted to go out for tea and couldn't get into a restaurant. But it was incredibly busy, it wasn't nice weather but events went on so it was absolutely pumping - great weekend."

Australian accents were also increasingly notable around town and they could all expect a kia ora from locals, Chadwick said.

"We love them. We say nau mai, haere mai - they're welcome here."

Tourism operators finally felt as though they had got their heads above water and found some breathing room.

While no one was expecting any big changes in the border situation for another year yet, the return of Australians had brought optimism to the town, Chadwick said.

Boult said Queenstown's business community was in the same boat, and he was expecting things to continue to improve when ski season began.

"They [the ski fields] open over the next week or two, but looking out my window I can see a mountain with quite a lot of white on it so it's looking pretty positive and particularly the bookings out of Australia are encouraging."

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Rene de Monchy said domestic tourism spending was up more than a billion dollars during the past 12 months compared to pre-pandemic levels.

That did not cover the loss of almost $13 billion in international visitor spending, but the return of Australians had given plenty of reason for optimism.

"What I'm certainly hearing in talking to tourism businesses is that they're starting to see really high-interest levels and bookings for the period ahead and going into the July and August school holiday travel period. So whilst not that many holiday arrivals have already come, there's certainly some good bookings going into the next holiday period.

"So that's really significant because it gives a bit of hope for the future for the tourism sector."

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