Queenstown’s sister city relationship with a nine million-sized Chinese city is on a firmer footing following a mayoral-led delegation’s visit last week.
The resort’s been linked with Hangzhou, three hours south of Shanghai, for four years.
But having Jim Boult head this latest delegation had significance as the office of mayor carries a lot of weight in China, and helps open doors.
Boult, accompanied by his wife Karen, met Hangzhou head honchos like vice mayor Chen Weiqiang, and emphasised he wanted the sister city relationship to “maximise benefits” for both parties, rather than just be symbolic.
For Queenstown, the link presents the opportunity to attract more high-spending visitors.
Hangzhou’s already the fourth-largest city for Chinese visitors into New Zealand, after Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, but because it’s China’s tech hub (think Alibaba Group), it’s one of the super-power’s wealthiest.
There’s also the enticing prospect of a Chinese Eastern Airlines link between Hangzhou and Auckland on the horizon.
Boult says Queenstown, as a fast-growing resort, can also learn from how Hangzhou’s handled its own staggering growth.
Helpfully, this city’s also a popular tourist destination, receiving about 100 million visitors a year including six million from overseas.
The mayor was particularly impressed at how it addresses peak-time traffic congestion through an electronic ‘traffic brain’.
Hangzhou officials also offered to help build Queenstown infrastructure through a corporation that constructs highways, bridges and tunnels throughout the city’s Zhejiang province and beyond.
Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd, whose staff organised the 31-strong delegation, says the size mismatch was addressed when the sister city link was being forged.
“They said, ‘in China, we’re used to being bigger than pretty much everybody else we work worth’.
“For the Chinese, it’s much more about values and trust and understanding and a connection.”
He believes the relationship provides “huge potential” to increase Hangzhou visitor numbers, and has “some confidence” an Auckland air link will eventuate.
He also says it’s significant that DQ’s China Tourism Exchange was the first in-market event for 2019’s China NZ Year of Tourism.
Budd sees it as no bad thing that Hangzhou has 24 other sister cities, like Boston, Cape Town and Budapest – “it connects us, through this relationship, with all those other places as well”.
Those cities also meet in a biennial mayoral forum to discuss various issues.
The great thing Queenstown can learn from Hangzhou is how to plan for the future, Budd says.
“There’s been an incredible plan and vision for what they want the city to be, and they’re implementing that.”
Study Queenstown’s Aaron Halstead, who joined the delegation, says sister city relationships are “really important” to the Chinese, and this resort has great opportunities to leverage off this link.
“It means we’re already like friends because the cities agreed to be friends.”
Hangzhou Chinese, he’s found, are in awe of Queenstown and NZ.
“They want to link with us so let’s work together to try and actually benefit Queenstown, and wider NZ.”
– Philip Chandler visited China with assistance from Auckland International Airport and DQ.
In next week’s Scene: Hanging out in Hangzhou