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"Confronting" visit: National leader Christpher Luxon speaks to a media pack in Queenstown on Tuesday. PICTURE: JAMES ALLAN/GETTY

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

National leader Christopher Luxon leapt to Queenstown’s defence during a media stand-up in the resort on Monday.

When TVNZ political reporter Maiki Sherman asked Luxon why he brought his party’s caucus retreat here, instead of somewhere ‘‘really struggling at the moment’’, the former Air New Zealand CEO’s response was swift.

‘‘You’ve only got to walk around the main streets of Queenstown right now and go up and down the shops and see that there’s an endless amount of them closed.

‘‘Tourism businesses have been doing it incredibly tough … I would put it to you, walk around Queenstown.

‘‘It’s not doing it easy.’’

On Tuesday he told reps from Queenstown Chamber of Commerce and Skal International Queenstown, at Winnies: ‘‘You’re doing it the toughest of anyone in the country in this sector … and I know how beat-up [you] have felt.’’

 

He tells Mountain Scene it’s been ‘‘confronting’’ to see first-hand the impact Covid’s
had here, and says it’s imperative fully-vaxxed Aussies are here by this ski season.

‘‘Right now, opening the borders and ending MIQ is the number one thing we can do to help revive struggling tourist towns.’’

Yesterday, PM Jacinda Ardern announced the government’s five-step plan – at this stage to span about eight months – to reconnect New Zealand with the rest of the world.

While Kiwis from Aussies can come back from February 28, and Kiwis from the rest of the world from March 14, along with some other specific categories, including those deemed ‘critical’ or ‘skilled’ workers who met certain criteria, Aussies won’t be back until, at this stage July.

While Adern made it clear that’s the latest they expect Aussie tourism to resume, at this stage, all of those visitors are going to have to complete seven days’ home isolation first.

Global tourism isn’t going to resume until October – again, at this stage, with an expectation they, too, will have to complete seven days’ home-iso first.

In December, total passenger numbers travelling through Queenstown Airport dropped by 25%, compared to December, 2020, to 87,849.

And in the 12 months to December, ’21, there was an overall drop of 11%, to 1,152,825, with predictions that could reduce by another third this year, based on the Red setting.

Queenstown Chamber CEO Ruth Stokes says, anecdotally, the resort’s business sector’s had its toughest summer since the ’90s.

Scene understands commercial accommodation providers were operating about 70%
of the capacity they could open — in some cases that is just 30% of pre-Covid — during
the peak period.

After the Red setting was activated on January 23, about 1200 flights to Queenstown were cancelled in four days.

Stokes believes this will be the final straw for some businesses.

She says it’s ‘‘astounding’’ to hear some of the stories locally, including of one operator
who kept their doors open throughout the past year and is now in a $2 million hole.

If they had instead closed their doors, and just continued paying staff, they would only
be $800,000 in the red, she says.

But, she says it’s important the country understood ‘‘brand NZ’’ was now at risk.

‘‘This is actually about NZ’s reputation with the rest of the world.

‘‘The government’s just spent $62m on the Dubai Expo, so they can’t say that the brand doesn’t matter to them.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz