Queenstown tourism landscape is in for a reset


Darren Lovell’s ‘Your Word’ piece (MS, Nov 26) sure created a stir.

Darren raised a valid concern about the future of our town, and indeed the wider district, if we don’t get any international visitors back soon.

Some of the responses to his article showed us New Zealand’s ‘tall poppy’ syndrome is alive and well — let’s kick Queenstown and business owners while they’re down.

What happened to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plea to ‘‘be kind’’?

In 34 years here, I have seen many people come and go and lose their shirts in our gold rush town.

The streets are not paved with gold, unlike many people would like to believe.

Most business owners have not been sitting back laughing, plugged into an endless ATM spewing out money, charging whatever they like and banking big profits.

Many have invested everything they have to grow and meet the demands of the very competitive tourism industry.

Queenstown is a tough place to set up a business — margins are tight, the cost of living is high, commercial rents are even higher and the competition for every dollar is fierce.

Queenstown’s seen good times and some have made their fortunes, but many have not.

Looking forward, we can see some very welcome light at the end of the tunnel.

First, a vaccine was approved, and now a trans-Tasman travel bubble, hopefully by the end of March — by then it will be just days after the first anniversary of our Level 4 lockdown.

That’s a full year without the backbone of our town, international tourism.

The scale of this event is still unfolding; our community and economy are still being impacted as we head into the time of year which is traditionally our high season.

Holding our breath: Queenstown Mall was near-empty at 1pm on Wednesday

Forward bookings in the accommodation sector are grim, so we’ll all hold our breath hoping our Australian friends start booking NZ holidays and conferences soon.

When we look wider than Australia, what will international travel look like?

When will different markets open up?

And what will travel cost?

I doubt it will be cheap or mass — many of the airlines around the world are on their knees, many of their aircraft are parked in deserts around the world where they’ll probably stay.

We don’t know if people will travel less often, or stay closer to home.

I suspect our domestic NZ and Australian markets are going to be the future backbone of our tourism economy.

If Covid’s taught us anything, it is how vitally important these greater domestic markets are to us.

The reality is, our world has changed.

Our town is changing, and our tourism industry may well never be the same.

What will our new normal be?

It’s hard to say.

But more to the point, what do we want it to be?

The worldwide tourism industry is debating what tourism needs to look like going forward.

Can we have a visitor industry that regenerates destinations, and provides economic, social, and environmental benefits?

Will visitors respect our place and leave it better than when they arrived?

Will visitors pay for the true cost of their visit, including their contribution to our global challenges such as climate change and plastic pollution?

At council we’re in the process of working up our next 10-year plan — we can’t afford to stop what we are doing and wait to see what happens, we need to keep moving forward.

We are still a very desirable place to live and NZ is, arguably, one of the safest, most desirable places to live and visit.

We need to keep upgrading our infrastructure and keep working on master-planning so we can cope with future growth, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by stopping planning for population growth that will happen sooner or later.

Queenstown will survive this very tough time and the challenges of 2020 will continue to affect businesses, jobs, friendships, and our community.

But if there was ever a time to ‘‘be kind’’, it’s now.

Please take care and look out for family, friends and neighbours over this festive season.

I wish you all the best for the new year.

John MacDonald’s a long-time Queenstown resident and businessman and is currently a Queenstown Lakes District councillor