Imagine a tourist town with no tourists.
Scary as it sounds, Queenstown’s effectively facing that scenario right now – at least for the 70 per cent of our visitors who come from overseas – thanks to tough new control measures aimed at stopping the dreaded Covid-19 coronavirus virus from spreading.
Measures that in turn have led to Air New Zealand, for example, cutting all Aussie flights to Queenstown from March 30 to June 30.
During my 35 years with Mountain Scene, I’ve seen Queenstown badly impacted by the ’87 sharemarket crash and the ’99 flood, and still reasonably affected by Sars, the global financial crisis and the big Christchurch quake of 2011.
But Covid-19, due to its worldwide spread, now far and beyond China, blows those other disasters out of the water.
Credit to the government for trying to stop an Italy-like outbreak, but even with its business assistance package this week, the border measures, combined with flight cancellations, will have a crippling effect on our tourism-centric economy.
If you don’t believe me, check out how many visitors we’ll have on our streets this time next week.
Stand by for restaurants and cafes to close – hopefully, only temporarily.
Daily, we’re hearing about events being cancelled or postponed, including those that attract a fair number of visitors like the Arrowtown Autumn Festival and Luma.
I feel for all those whose jobs or hours are being cut, but also for volunteers who’ve put so much work into events like these two examples.
But as a glass-half-full-bloke, I don’t think it’s entirely doom and gloom, especially if we can get Aussies back here for the bulk of the ski season.
With a bit of luck, most of the thousands of construction workers and tradies will continue earning good coin.
Locals who’ve daily fretted about our traffic and parking woes should have less to worry about, let alone those concerned about Queenstown succumbing to ‘overtourism’.
People might find it easier to get more affordable rental digs.
Already, many landlords are converting their Airbnbs back into long-term rentals.
There could even be more joy for locals trying to get onto the property ladder for the first time.
Think also of how many Kiwis will consider canning an overseas break in favour of a holiday down here.
It still amazes me how many North Islanders have never been to Queenstown.
Hopefully, there’ll be some nice deals to entice these people.
And maybe, rather than expect too many tourists anytime soon, we could all do some more travel around our own stunning backyard this autumn and appreciate how lucky we are to live here.
After all, seems many of us will have a bit more time on our hands.