OPINION: Queenstown just lost a friend in high places.
John Key, who steps down as Prime Minister next week, has been a great advocate for the resort.
He didn’t just go into bat for us as PM, but also as the Minister of Tourism.
Tourism used to be allocated to lowly ministers, but by taking on the portfolio, Key demonstratred its importance to the country.
It helped, too, that Queenstown was one of his favourite getaways – just last year, this paper ran a photo of him buying beers at Arrowtown’s Fork and Tap.
I never forget him boasting that he’d snuck down here for a break with his son without me knowing.
He once told me rather ruefully that he’d bought a section at exclusive Closeburn Station before he became a politician but had sold it again as he didn’t think he’d have a use for it.
Still, he retained a soft spot for this area, regularly opening Winter Festival, addressing breakfast or luncheon business audiences and bravely playing golf in front of large galleries at the New Zealand Open.
I wasn’t there, but apparently his speech at an Open welcome party at the Hilton Hotel was one of the most hilarious and irreverent you’d ever hear from a political leader.
Speaking of which, I raised eyebrows in his office when I published some of the one-liners he delivered when opening Sir Michael Hill’s sculpture park at The Hills in 2012.
Example – when given a red ribbon to cut, he quipped: “I didn’t give [you] a knighthood to be voting Labour, Michael.”
On a more serious note, he gave the impression he was frustrated by the last council’s dilly-dallying on issues like the convention centre.
He did, however, address the safety of adventure tourism, on which so much of Queenstown’s reputation is staked.
After English visitor Emily Jordan died on a local riversurfing trip, her father’s impassioned plea to Key struck a chord.
He ordered a review which resulted in the safety bar being lifted for all adventure operators.
When I heard Monday’s shock news, I only half-jokingly suggested that Key should retain the tourism portfolio till he leaves Parliament.
He could be given the responsibility of bedding in a visitor tax to fund tourism infrastructure.
Do that, John, and you’d fully earn the ‘key’ to Queenstown.