Get boozed, get laid, get fighting – ‘Debauchery Tourism’
This man is so worried about drunken violence in Queenstown’s CBD he’s turning his pizza parlour into a mini-fortress after 11pm.
After being the victim of a 5am attack by a booze-crazed Aussie tourist, businessman Ankur Agarwal (right) is stepping up late-night security at his Shotover Street premises – and will start serving food from the door.
Queenstown Lakes District Council has recently been warned by a think-tank that what’s labelled “debauchery tourism” is a major threat to the resort’s family-friendly image.
The problem was highlighted when police rushed to quell a Queen’s Birthday weekend brawl that erupted in Cow Lane in the early hours of last Monday, which at its height involved up to “a few dozen” people.
Concerned cops stress alcohol is the No1 offender in late-night violence – and as a result Queenstown has become a Jekyll and Hyde place, with the ugly side coming out after dark.
“People who think they know their town would be in for a bit of a shock at the level of behaviour around the place if they venture out late, especially at the weekends,” senior sergeant John Fookes says.
Not our town anymore, says think-tank
‘People who think they know their town would be in for a bit of a shock if they venture out late, especially at weekends’
Rising “debauchery tourism” is threatening Queenstown’s family-friendly reputation, according to a council think-tank.
Excessive late-night boozing leading to disorder and violence is putting the town centre’s community-hub image at risk, Queenstown Lake District Council’s strategy committee has been told.
A key concern is that the CBD is becoming seen as “not a place for the whole community” – particularly not the young and the elderly.
The recent draft town centre strategy – aimed at creating a “quality environment” but flagging the “threat” of what’s labelled “debauchery tourism” – also recommends the resort should avoid encouraging a party-town image.
Police agree alcohol is the main offender when it comes to creating a climate of fear amongst some residents and visitors after dark.
“The resort is like two different towns – it has a dual nature,” senior sergeant John Fookes says. “It’s one thing during the day and into the early evening, then from late night and into the wee small hours it can turn into something else.
“People who think they know their town would be in for a bit of a shock at the level of behaviour around the place if they venture out late, especially at the weekends.”
Latest police statistics back up the Jekyll and Hyde comparisons.
They show of those arrested for violence in the resort between 8pm-8am in the past 12 months, a staggering 85 per cent were affected by booze. That’s 88 out of 103 people.
How the figures compare nationally isn’t yet known as New Zealand Police is still in the process of collating these.
“The degree of alcohol consumption links very, very strongly with offences committed,” Fookes says. “Typically, those offences are involving assaults, some of which can be reasonably serious.
“Then there are incidents of intentional damage, disorderly behaviour and some thefts, plus offences caused by drink-drivers, including crashes.
“Often a lot of these wouldn’t have been committed by people if they didn’t feel uninhibited and unrestrained because of the fact they’ve been drinking to excess.”
Fookes adds: “If you are a victim of late-night crime, then there’s a chance you are affected by alcohol as well – whether it’s a theft, assault or thankfully on the rare occasions here in Queenstown, some sort of sexual offending.”
Just last Monday, four men were arrested after fighting erupted in Cow Lane at 3.55am and “several dozen” people became embroiled in an ugly street fracas.
A 23-year-old from Invercargill, a 33-year-old Queenstowner and a 25-year-old local bouncer were charged with disorderly behaviour likely to cause violence. A resort bartender, 26, was also charged with assault. Police are still hunting another man in connection with the incident.
A 4am closing curfew came into force from last August for most resort bars.
But Fookes is still concerned about easy access to late-night booze – and the trouble that can follow. “Put it this way, if someone is drinking in a bar at 5.30 in the morning, they’re not likely to be on their second beer.”
He also agrees with strategy committee concerns that Queenstown’s family-friendly image could be compromised by spiralling “debauchery tourism”.
“If you get a name as a town that’s a bit of a thrill place, then down the track there are risks to the people who make their living out of tourism.
“You don’t want the town centre at night to be only really for those who are part of that culture who want to go out and get heavily liquored up.”
Booze callouts delay us responding
Queenstown’s ambulance service is being hampered in responding to real emergencies by dealing with revellers in bother.
“Alcohol-related calls are a significant portion of our work,” says St John’s local boss Alana Reid. “Our concern is that most of these are preventable.
“If our resources are tied up with dealing with minor, alcohol-related events then these people potentially delay us responding to true emergencies like cardiac arrests.”
Reid (right) says a lot of callouts happen in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings and “in the hotspots of Queenstown”.
She also warns some house fires are caused by people falling asleep while cooking food after a night on the town.
“People come to the resort for a good time but what seems like a good idea at three o’clock in the morning after a few drinks is not so much fun in the cold light of day.
“Who wants to come to New Zealand for 12 days and spend 10 of those in hospital?”
But compared with many city A&E departments, Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital gets a “surprisingly low” amount of booze-related casualties, according to boss Norman Gray.
“It’s not something that’s causing an impact on the healthcare system,” he says.
Without vibrancy, we’re like Wanaka
A prominent Queenstown bar owner reckons curbing the resort’s party image would “stifle it to a sleepy hollow at the bottom of the world”.
Mike Burgess (left) operates popular bar-restaurant Winnies and the Buffalo Club bar. He believes party tourism is “a very valuable part of what Queentown is”.
“I’m very proud of our reputation,” Burgess says. “There are plenty of places in New Zealand where there’s nothing going on between Sunday and Friday night.
“If we don’t have that vibrancy and energy, we could very easily become a town like Te Anau or Wanaka.”
Burgess accepts that resort bars – including his own – attract unwelcome behaviour at times.
But he insists problems can be minimised. “The onus goes back to the licensees and working with the police to ensure that the potential negative side of partying is managed.
“I wouldn’t be against bar owners having to pay a yearly levy of $3000 or $5000 towards this – as long as it was channelled into providing more security, extra police, cleaning up the streets or whatever.
“I have about 7000 people coming through Winnies alone every week in winter time and it would be the same at the Buffalo. Compared with those numbers – and that’s just my businesses – the amount of trouble in town is quite small.”
As a woman I’m happy to work at night
Cabbie Jackie Kukutai believes Queenstown gets an unfair rap for its party-destination image.
A director of Queenstown Taxis, she never flinches from working the nightshift – in fact, she prefers it.
“We might get a few obnoxious people here who can be a bit of a pain in the arse,” says Kukatai (right).
“But we don’t have any gangsters or anything like that in Queenstown and as a woman I’m quite happy to work at night.
“In the past year I’ve had a problem with just one person, and that was a female I wouldn’t let into my cab because she was too intoxicated and had a foul mouth.”
Kukutai insists she’s never known a driver activate a distress call in her six years with the company and that local cabbies are also happy to help the cops find troublemakers.
“We sometimes get a call from the police asking us to keep an eye out for a certain person or a vehicle. We’ve had some pretty good results.”
Bashing forces clampdown
A bashing from a boozed-up Aussie tourist has forced a Queenstown businessman to step up late-night security at his Shotover Street pizza shop.
In February Ankur Agarwal (above) was choked and punched when the out-of-control visitor objected to him closing up at 5am.
The offender was later ordered to pay $750 in emotional harm reparation to the boss of the Slice outlet – but for Agarwal, the assault was the final straw.
He’s fed up with “appalling” verbal and physical abuse from late-night drunks and is introducing new security measures to protect staff.
“From next week, when the resort starts to get busy again, I’ll not be opening my doors after 11pm,” Agarwal says. “Instead, I’ll be taking orders from the street and passing food out.
“I have no other option as I’ve had too many worrying incidents inside the shop. It’s pretty much every night now.”
But Agarwal doesn’t blame bars for fuelling the behaviour.
“A lot of people get drunk at home before they even come into town,” he says.
“I’ve seen them being refused entry at the bars then they come to my shop for something to eat to try and sober up before having another go at getting into the pub. It’s crazy.”
He gets attacked at least once a month
Queenstown rubbish collector Ron Drake sees it all during late-night rounds of the CBD.
His shifts start at 2am and by then the place is often littered with people fighting, vomiting and toileting in the street, he says.
Drake (right) also claims he’s a constant target for abuse from drunken revellers and gets assaulted “at least once a month”.
“Most ordinary Queenstowners would be hard-pushed to believe what I witness,” he says. “The way things are going, one day there’s going to be a dead body to deal with.”
Drake insists females can behave even worse than men when tanked-up on booze.
He even recalls once seeing a woman defecating in a street near The Mall. “She was so drunk she fell back into her own mess and it was caked all down the back of her dress. It was foul.”
Drake often has confrontations with out-of-it youngsters trying to jump in his garbage truck and drive off, or demanding a lift home.
“Some seem to think I’m a taxi and I get physically attacked on quite a regular basis.
“This place needs to decide if it’s a party town or a tourist town because it can’t continue to be both.”