It’s time for us to fight

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By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown’s mayor says we need to be single-minded and take a united stand to ‘‘save our district’’.

Of all the regions in New Zealand affected by Covid-19, the Queenstown Lakes will take the biggest hit, due to our reliance on the tourism industry — which evaporated overnight — and the number of people here on work vias.

As it stands, they don’t qualify for any type of government assistance.

Lastest figures show as of yesterday, 81 per cent of the 7000-odd requests for welfare assistance from City Hall are from people on either work or holiday visas.

Jim Boult says, for those people in particular, the future is ‘‘pretty ragged’’.

‘‘Some people have said to me ‘why are we worried about foreign nationals?’

‘‘Well, the tourism industry in our part of the world has been based on the availability of labour from other parts of the world.

‘‘For many decades these people have come here on working holidays or working visas and
they’re the ones who have worked in the bars and restaurants and hotels and motels and whatever else, providing all those visitor services and suddenly, here we are, where we ‘don’t need them’ anymore, some folk are saying ‘not our problem’.

‘‘It is our problem.

‘‘They are part of our community and we have to find a way to look after them.’’

While many believe Queenstown’s future’s dire, Boult takes a different view.

The community, he says, is resilient and full of people who have chosen to call the resort home.

‘‘We will fight, really hard, to make the place recover.

‘‘I think we’re in for a hard couple of years — the reality is, I think we’ll still be feeling the cold breath of this in about five years’ time, but we will recover and I have every faith in our community to pick up their socks and get the job done.

‘‘This requires us all to be single-minded.

‘‘Forget about the peripheral issues.

‘‘Forget about the bits and pieces we’ve been arguing about for years that don’t matter anymore.

‘‘This is about a united stand to save our district.’’

He says, right now, Queenstown’s at ‘‘ground zero’’ of the cornavirus crisis.

Thousands of people have lost their jobs and their incomes and many people won’t be able to reopen their businesses.

That, he says, is ‘‘enormously sad’’.

While on Monday the government announced it’ll lift the Alert Level 4 lockdown this coming Monday night, Boult says the ‘go’ button here won’t be pushed until it’s reduced to Alert Level 2.

At that point, stimulating domestic tourism becomes critical for Queenstown— no mean feat either given the number of Kiwis who have been hit hard in the pocket.

He’s still hopeful there’ll be a domestic-only ski season — and some intrepid kiwis might come to Queenstown for a break but says, longer term, the ‘‘transtasman bubble’’ is our greatest hope.

‘‘If, in fact, New Zealand and Australia are able to satisfy themselves that both countries have this under control — and I put flashing lights around ‘having it under control’ — then a transtasman bubble would make a lot of sense.

‘‘Getting the Aussie market to return to us would make a lot of sense because [it] will be vital for our future.

‘‘Putting my realistic hat on, I don’t see that happening pre-ski season, which is pretty sad.’’

Meantime, the council was looking at projects to generate economic activity in the district — last Tuesday it submitted to the Crown Infrastructre Partners’ ‘shovel-ready’ fund, hoping to get the green light for $68 million for the district, to go to five pipeline projects.

The major one was Queenstown’s town centre upgrade and arterials project.

That’ll inject ‘‘an enormous amount of value’’ to the district, employ local and national
contractors, and help drive the local economy.

It may also offer a lifeline for those whose jobs have folded.

‘‘If you can wield a knife in a kitchen, then maybe you can swing a hammer on a building site.

‘‘If you can drive a boat, well, perhaps you can drive a truck.

‘‘These are challenging times and people are going to have to adapt and change to earn a living in the way they are able to rather than, perhaps, the way they want to at the present time.’’

There are some positives, though.

He points to ‘Vision 2050’ — the vision Queenstown Lakes residents came up with for the district a couple of years ago.

‘‘In a funny way, maybe this might help us get to where we want to in 2050 because it is
giving us the ability to have a rethink about the shape of our economy and the way we conduct business in the future.’’

Boult’s also formed two taskforces, one focused on community recovery and the other on economic.

The latter has two arms to it, one is about kick-starting the tourism industry to make sure it’s ‘‘race-ready’’, and the other is about diversification of the economy.

That’s something the council and community has talked about for years, and there had already been some progress made.

‘‘But, if we needed a good shake of the shoulders to concentrate on this, we’ve got it.

‘‘We need to work really hard to ensure that we are no longer reliant purely on the tourism
industry.

‘‘You’d be amazed at the number of really good ideas that have come to me in the past couple of weeks … people with outstanding ideas to diversify and come up with some
new ways of doing business.’’

One was include ‘‘turning ourselves into a tech centre’’ and attracting major companies from Silicone Valley, for example.

Many other ideas around the education, medical and film industry sectors have been mooted, he says.

‘‘I think anybody who didn’t think there would be a correction in the economy going forward was living in la-la land, and none of us ever thought as it was going to be as bad as it actually turned out to be.

‘‘But … there’s no point in wringing our hands and worry-warting, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

‘‘It’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we’ve got to play it.’’
tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz