Chief news hound Philip Chandler quizzes Prime Minister John Key – in town to open Winter Festival – on events funding and the adventure tourism review
Mountain Scene: The Government stumped up $1 million for the first Winter Games. How worthy is the event of money from the Government’s Major Events fund and to what level?
John Key: “It worked extremely well last year and I think it can in the future. There were two chunks of cash that went in last year – initially half a million dollars and then [another $500,000] when they ran into problems getting extra cash because of the global financial crisis. What I can tell you is I don’t know what level of funding they will enjoy next year. I genuinely don’t know. I’d be surprised if they got nothing.”
MS: The feeling from Queenstown Inc is the Major Events fund is a bit of a lolly scramble. Your thoughts on a national strategy targeting events for all regions across all seasons?
JK: “We agree. It’s not large enough and it’s not well constructed – at the moment the fund is technically $4 million. Outside of that we always have the capacity to allocate money to certain events. Four million isn’t enough and it means we can’t actually plan in the way that somewhere like Melbourne does. It’s one of the things I’ve got Gerry Brownlee working on.”
MS: Your view on a dedicated tourist tax to help a heavily indebted place like Queenstown pay for essential services like water, sewerage? Your Cabinet discussed one recently.
JK: “There’s always discussions in that area. We’re not planning to put one in. There is capacity at a local government level if businesses agree to have that sort of tax and Wellington has that. I’m actually not hostile to the idea, but we’re charging 15 per cent GST – we don’t want to deter tourists from coming.”
MS: The adventure tourism review – was the letter from Chris Jordan, the father of riverboarding victim Emily, the sole catalyst?
JK: “Partly but it also wasn’t an isolated case. The concern was there were a number of cases before the courts and our concerns were actually borne out by the report.”
MS: What are the soon-to-be-released review’s conclusions?
JK: “It’s come up with some recommendations. It confirms what we thought which is there isn’t a widespread problem but there is a problem with some operators. Rafting has always been a problem area. Generally, it reaffirms my confidence in the adventure tourism sector but there’s some work that needs to be done.”
MS: Favourite things about Queenstown?
JK: “Personally, I think Queenstown’s just going to go from strength to strength, primarily because it’s a summer and winter destination. I think Australia has discovered Queenstown and young Australians have discovered Queenstown. When you put that together it’s a hugely powerful combination. It’s one of the ultimate holiday destinations for a lot of Australians and New Zealanders and personally, I love coming here.”
MS: Concerned the speed of growth will kill what makes Queenstown so attractive in the first place?
JK: “Inevitably the real quaintness of the location is going to be harder to preserve. They’ve done a good job in Arrowtown. I’m sure some of the rules frustrate some developers but you do need to take a longer-term perspective. You can see with something like Kawarau Falls how you can get boom and bust. We’d love to see that completed because to me the extra leg needed here is major conference facilities.”
MS: Bit of a pity Queenstown, the country’s premier tourism resort, didn’t get a single pool game for the Rugby World Cup?
JK: “I think so, yes, and for the same reason I like the golf Open here – it’s a sporting event that has a lot of eyeballs on it.”