Gabfests and golf

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PM happy to chat to those boosting tourism in resort.

Government funding for a conference centre and the New Zealand Golf Open could be on the cards for Queenstown.

Prime Minister John Key (right), who’s also Tourism Minister, was in town last Friday to open Winter Festival and announce $1 million in Government support for next month’s Queenstown-based Winter Games.

Mountain Scene asked if there could also be support for the New Zealand Golf Open at The Hills near Arrowtown, which also draws a large international TV audience but is reliant on underwriting by host Michael Hill.

“If that was something that was required we could certainly have a chat,” says Key, who attended the first Open at The Hills in 2007 – the final of three allocated to the course will take place this coming summer. We’re always going to talk to those people who organise great events.”

Key also acknowledges a large conference centre, attracting high-spending, longer-staying visitors, would benefit Queenstown.

His Government is targeting 3000 to 4000-seat convention centres in Auckland and Christchurch – “that might be very difficult in Queenstown in the short term because of the logistics of flights and the likes”.

“Whether the Government could play a role if Queenstown sought to develop [a conference centre], it’s something we’d need to go away and have a look at.”

Key promises to follow up on two other local hot-button issues.

Told the screws are turning on work permits for foreign nationals, Key says the Queenstown branch of Immigration New Zealand has “greater flexibility in a number of ways, both in terms of the hours you work and [how] you might want to work multiple jobs – and that’s not going to change”.

Although Immigration had to react to the rise in NZ unemployment, “we recognise the volume of overseas workers plays an important role in keeping Queenstown going”.

“The Immigration Minister is actually the Associate Minister of Tourism, so I’ll mention it to him next time [we speak] to make sure he keeps an eye on it.”

Key will also follow up on a policy his colleague Nick Smith launched in Queenstown during the 2005 election campaign – a call for sewage holding tanks in all new campervans.

What might help is for the Depart­ment of Conservation to provide more campervan facilities, Key says.

Asked about concerns tourism will nosedive this summer, Key is somewhat reassuring.

“You may see more domestic tourism taking place as people put off the big overseas holiday in favour of staying in NZ, which I would have thought would support quite a strong summer for Queenstown.

“The second thing is the [airline] capacity that’s been built on the Tasman, and it’s not going away any time soon.

“Again, Australians may choose to come to NZ rather than going a lot further afield – we’re certainly going to continue to beef up our marketing [in Australia].”