China consul: ‘It’s all about Queenstown’

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China’s Christchurch consul-general believes Chinese travellers flying into that city will only use it as a jump-off point to Queenstown.

Madam Tan Xiutian, speaking to Mountain Scene after a function this week to mark the first direct flight from China to the South Island, says bluntly: “After the earthquake it’s not Christchurch, it’s Queenstown.

“Because Queenstown cannot offer the opportunity for big plane to land, they have to travel to Christchurch first and then to Queenstown.”

Madam Tan, confident Monday’s symbolic China Southern Airlines’ Dreamliner charter flight from Guangzhou to Christchurch International Airport will be followed by a regular service, adds: “The purpose of those Chinese travellers, the end’s Queenstown.” 

Madam Tan’s view is rejected by Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism boss Tim Hunter but Queenstown’s Ziptrek Ecotours director Trent Yeo, who attended the function, says Queenstown is the jewel in the crown for the fast-growing Chinese market.

“When you see [New Zealand] advertising in China, it’s often images of this part of the world, whether that’s Milford Sound or Wanaka or Queenstown, we’re very much represented.

“This is the place where [Chinese] people go ‘wow’.” 

Yeo says Christchurch tourism interests are very aware it’s the gateway for Chinese to visit the whole South Island.

If a regular service is established between Guangzhou and Christchurch, “the connection from southern China would be absolutely a game-changer”. 

Hunter says there’s no evidence Chinese want to bypass Christchurch because of the devastating quakes which rocked the city three years ago.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Queenstown, it’s a lovely place, but we don’t see that they’re turning off [Christchurch]. Since the change in [China’s] travel law we’ve had an increase in arrivals into Christchurch from China. The rest of NZ’s had a decrease.

“It doesn’t tell us we’ve gone off the boil.” Hunter says there’s been a marked rise in independent Chinese travellers staying in Christchurch then travelling the South Island by car: “Queenstown and Christchurch are very different places but I think people can enjoy both.”

Philip Chandler went to the China Southern Airlines function this week courtesy of Christchurch Airport.