'There will be casualties': Destination Queenstown CEO Paul Abbot


Destination Queenstown’s new boss says the challenge of rebuilding tourism attracted him to the role.

Paul Abbot, whose last job was running Papua New Guinea airline PNG Air, joined DQ this week after just getting out of Cairns, Australia, before the trans-Tasman bubble burst.

He’s most excited about the challenge of reinventing tourism in a resort hard hit by Covid border closures.

‘‘I guess, to be brutally honest and no disrespect to DQ, if nothing was changing it would not be an interesting job …

‘‘How often do you get the chance to almost reinvent an industry, or to be part of reinventing an industry and shaping it for your children, your grandchildren and the future generations, to give them something that’s better than we have at the moment?

‘‘Or potentially better, because we’re still working through what it’s going to be’’ — a nod to DQ’s currently-underway ‘Regenerative tourism by 2030’ destination management  planning.

Abbot says he was offered jobs in PNG and Australia but, ‘‘rightly or wrongly, they just didn’t tick the boxes as far as stimulation and challenge’’.

By contrast, the DQ role ‘‘was about finding something I was going to be interested in and engaged in, and feel like hopefully I can contribute and make a difference [in]’’.

Asked whether the bad rap Queenstown’s getting for its traffic and parking problems and, often, its expensiveness, wasn’t putting off the Kiwis we’re now so dependent on, Abbot says ‘‘a lot of it, I guess, is perception’’.

‘‘I think you find if you talk to the people who come down here, you get a completely different answer.’’

Buttressing his argument is new visitor experience survey research showing Kiwis’ satisfaction with Queenstown’s risen to nine out of 10.

Kiwis’ visitation for the past year’s also up 17%, and their spending’s up 79%.

Abbot says his immediate priority’s ‘‘just listening and talking and getting to understand’’ as Queenstown’s been through ‘‘such a phenomenal rate of change’’.

Having not skied for about 12 years — ‘‘there’s not many opportunities in PNG’’ — he thinks he’ll be a little rusty.

‘‘It’s not going to be a pretty sight.’’

His wife and three kids, still back in Cairns, will probably come here during the September school holidays, if they can, before settling here by Christmas.

Where’s the funding gone?

On top of its annual budget of $4 million, largely funded by commercial ratepayers, Destination Queenstown’s benefiting from big dollops of Covid-recovery government funding.

Marketing & comms director Sarah O’Donnell confirms the regional tourism organisation received $1 million from the strategic tourism assets protection programme.

The lion’s share’s gone into the ‘Regenerative tourism by 2030’ plan which DQ, Lake Wanaka Tourism (LWT) and the council are collaborating on.

Amongst other projects the funding’s allowed DQ to deliver six ‘‘high-impact’’ marketing campaigns this year, as against three or four that normal budgeting would allow, and to start market ing development plans for the biking and food and drink sectors.

DQ, LWT, Tourism Central Otago and Fiordland have also received $8.5m from the contestable regional events fund.

So far, $2.5m’s been awarded from it to events.