Get ready for climate change in Queenstown

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Queenstown tourism operators are being urged to think about climate change impacts following the release of bleak new findings. 

Several local businesses attended the Tourism, Weather and Climate Change Seminar in the resort yesterday to hear from scientists and professors about what lies ahead. 

Speaking before the seminar, sustainable tourism professor Susanne Becken tells Mountain Scene the Wakatipu can expect warmer temperatures, more rain, flash floods, stronger winds, less snow and fewer frosts. 

“Our concern was around winter in Queenstown – if it drops away, what would happen to the whole place?” 

Working with Lincoln University, Griffith University in Queensland, Crown-owned environmental experts NIWA and using recognised global climate change modelling, Becken’s team spent three years looking at the impact of weather on tourism centres like Queenstown. 

Projections have been made for 2040 and 2090 – and while that may seem like ages away, tourism operators dependent on the weather need to be future-focused, Becken says. 

“The trend in Queenstown will definitely be 1-2 degrees warmer by the end of the century and there will be between 50-80 per cent less snow. 

“In some parts of the area, rain will increase by nine per cent by 2040. You can say nine per cent is not much, but if you operate a business that when it rains you can’t do it, it will be nine per cent more often.” 

Snowmaking will be able to continue for skifields for the foreseeable future – but ski resorts will become increasingly reliant on it to compensate for lack of natural snow. 

“But snowmaking will get harder and harder and of course more expensive,” Becken adds. 

Queenstown skifield operators don’t have as much to worry about as resorts across the ditch – by 2040, there will only be between 57-78 per cent of the current maximum snow depth on Australian mountains, reducing to 21-29 per cent by 2090, according to projections. 

“While we will suffer, it’s much, much worse over in Australia,” Becken says. 

But Aussies will still come to Queenstown regardless of superior snow conditions: “When we spoke to the tourists, the reason why so many Australians come to Queenstown is not because they think it’s got the better snow, it’s because they get cheap flights, attractive package deals and they can do a lot of other things.” 

Like tourism spots in the North Island reliant on weather, Queenstown faces challenging times, Becken says.
 
“Some people don’t think beyond the next year – that’s not uncommon in tourism. We want people to start thinking long-term.”