17 Jul 2018

Chch moteliers: 'It's getting harder each winter'

7:46 pm on 17 July 2018

Christchurch moteliers are blaming competition from AirBnB and a lack of events for what's being called the worst winter since the Canterbury earthquakes.

Winters are usually tough for Christchurch's accommodation sector, but while hotels are making a come back, motels are reporting a "20 to 30 percent" drop in business from last year.

Bob Cringle bought the Comfort Inn motel on Riccarton road seven years ago, looking for a change from farming.

But as the city rebuilt itself following the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, the last thing he expected was for business to drop.

"It's getting harder each winter because we are getting less people in," he said.

"We had the rebuild for a start but now those people have dried up, so it's hard work and a lot of [motels] are right down this winter."

Mr Cringle, who represents Christchurch's motel sector for Hospitality New Zealand, said some of the city's 120 motels have seen business drop significantly in the last year.

He put the blame firmly with the sector's newest player, AirBnB.

"They have the right to be here, but we just want a level playing field...we've got compliance costs and zoning costs...and we pay commercial rates. Commercial rates are a lot more expensive than residential rates."

A lack of events also seemed to be a problem. Mr Cringle said the only major event this year, the Golden Oldies sports event, turned out to be a flop for motels.

A survey of 100 Hospitality New Zealand member motels, roughly 80 percent of the sector in Christchurch, found only six motels had any guests stay due to the event.

Mr Cringle said there needed to be better collaboration between organisations like economic development agency ChristchurchNZ and the accommodation sector.

If that did not happen, Mr Cringle believed some moteliers would have to consider shutting their doors for good.

The latest figures from ChristchurchNZ show guest nights spent in the city are actually up.

Comparing May last year to May this year, international guest nights were up 15 percent, while domestic guest nights for the same period were up 12 percent.

'We want a level playing field'

But ChristchurchNZ's destination manager Caroline Blanchfield said it was unclear exactly how much of that increase was gobbled up by AirBnB, at the expense of motels.

"We've gone from about 57 whole houses to nearly 1000 in 12 months, so everybody is jumping on the band wagon," she said.

"We don't want our communities dissolved because of AirBnB but equally we don't want it all to disappear - we want a level playing field."

The Christchurch City Council was looking at the district plan rules in relation to AirBnB.

Ms Blanchfield said even though motels might be struggling right now, it was not all doom and gloom for the entire accommodation sector.

Compared to last May, hotel guest nights in the central city is up 47.2 percent and international visitor spending was up 20 percent.

"I do think the whole city is on a rise," she said. "I feel it whenever I go anywhere...the perception has changed and we are seen as a new vibrant city so that has got to help us."

In a statement, an AirBnB spokesperson said the platform was growing the "tourism pie" in Christchurch by making travel more accessible and affordable.

For the AirBnB community to grow, no providers had to shrink, it said.