Queenstown’s Chamber of Commerce is leading a 12-strong delegation to China to explore a potential sister city relationship.
The delegation – comprising tourism, council, education, wine and film industry representatives – leaves on November 2 for the Chinese tourist hotspot of Hangzhou, which is a 50-minute bullet train from Shanghai.
Chamber president Charlie Phillips says the trip’s purpose is to clarify what partnering up with Hangzhou would entail.
“We need to ensure we don’t bite off more than we can chew because once you enter these relationships it’s a relationship for life – or more than life. You need to ensure you think of any unintended consequences – what it costs to administer, the size and frequency of delegation visits.”
Hangzhou has 80 million Chinese visitors a year, sits on a lake, is known as the happiest city in China and is one of the country’s top 10 wealthiest cities.
Phillips says one challenge is the contrast between Hangzhou’s population of eight million and Queenstown’s of only 20,000.
The idea of a Chinese sister city was raised with the Chamber by former Destination Queenstown boss Tony Everitt, before he took up his Tourism New Zealand posting in Shanghai last year.
Phillips: “What sparked our interest is we looked at some statistics on what sister city relationships do for you.
“Auckland, for example, has got about 20 sister city relationships but 92 per cent of the commercial benefit comes from their Chinese alliance.”
Phillips says the Chamber looked at three or four Chinese cities but Hangzhou was the best fit.
One factor is its proximity to Shanghai, which has a thriving sister city relationship with Dunedin: “There’s some good synergies there.”
Phillips sees two main spinoffs from a Chinese sister city.
Given China is the country’s fastest-growing major visitor market, Queenstown’s often asked if it’s ‘China-ready’, he says.
“To have a sister city or the prospect of one does raise your cultural awareness and allows the general community to be more knowledgeable of Chinese customs and cultures.”
Phillips adds a sister city relationship can also be a nice conduit for people wanting to do business in China, which can be a hard market to crack.
DQ boss Graham Budd, who’s on the Chamber delegation, also visited Hangzhou last November.
Hangzhou, he says, is “a modern, sophisticated city, it’s a very pretty place, a holiday destination in its own right, so it has lots of connections in terms of a fit if you put aside the size disparity”.
The city has a large wealthy population that Queenstown can target for visitors along with a major international and domestic airport, Budd adds.
“Hangzhou, and Zhejiang province which it sits in, are a terrific opportunity for us to be more directly linked with.”
Phillips, meanwhile, cautions that a lot of boxes still need to be ticked before a sister city deal is done.
All going well, he says a Hangzhou delegation is likely to visit Queenstown during next year’s Winter Festival.
Queenstown’s mayor may then visit China about this time next year to seal the deal.