26 Dec 2021

Queenstown faces 'big challenge' to have less than half of workers rely on tourism

6:42 pm on 26 December 2021

The Queenstown Lakes is attempting to diversify its economy, with hopes that less than half of its workers will rely on tourism in the long run.

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People relax beside Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. (file pic) Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

Before Covid-19, about six out of 10 of the district's workers were employed in tourism.

But thousands of jobs have been lost since the pandemic hit and the town's usual lifeblood of international visitors dried up.

While diversification was already being discussed, the Queenstown Lakes District Council has ramped up its plans in response.

The council launched Home for Healthier Business earlier this year, which was dedicated to attracting business leaders and employers to the district.

Economic development manager Peter Harris said tourism had firmly cemented itself as the core industry of Queenstown over decades.

"If you add construction on to the top of that, the vast majority of our workers were either tourism related or related to housing, and when times are good, that's fine.

"But ultimately if you're building a portfolio, you shouldn't really have something that's sitting at over 50 percent of your investment because that just puts you at risk."

The goal he would like to see the region reach was ambitious.

"In the long run, I'd like to get it to less than 50 percent. How quickly we can do that, it's a big challenge because of the sheer numbers of people in the tourism and construction industry so we're going to have to create a lot of alternative jobs to move that percentage."

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A $45m hub is expected to provide roughly 6000 square metres of research and innovation offices and facilities as well as commercial uses at Remarkables Park. Photo: RNZ / Russell Palmer

Earlier this year, the government announced it would invest $20 million over three years to help the district in its plans to diversify, by underwriting projects that would develop alternative industries.

Harris could not confirm how many new jobs would be on the table as a part of this diversification plan, saying that it was a project they needed time to work through.

"I see the diversification work as probably a 10-year piece of work because it's taken us probably five decades or maybe longer to create the dominance of tourism that we've got in our district. So we can't expect that to turn around in a hurry.

"We don't have any stats on the numbers of jobs that it's created, as I say, it's a long haul.

"But I think the uptake we're getting and the interest we're getting bodes really well and I guess the investment that is going into the likes of the Research and Innovation Hub, again is a vote of confidence in the fact that this whole area will grow."

The $45m greenfield hub was expected to provide roughly 6000 square metres of research and innovation offices and facilities as well as commercial uses at Remarkables Park.

In May, the government announced it would lend up to $22.5m to contribute to the development of stage one, with Research & Innovation Queenstown Ltd committing to match the funding.

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