A new Queenstown industry, international education, emerged 30 years ago, yesterday, when the resort’s first language school opened its doors. PHILIP CHANDLER, who announced the news in Mountain Scene in ’93, speaks to founder Guy Hughes, who’s still going strong, despite hibernating during Covid
Though he grew up in Ashburton, Guy Hughes was always attracted to Queenstown.
Thanks to his uncle being the local fish and game officer, he caught his first fish, aged five, at Hidden Island.
While studying at Canterbury University, ‘‘trips through to Queenstown were always better than anywhere else’’.
Then, after three years’ OE, including two years in Japan teaching English and studying Japanese, he rocked up in Queenstown in February, ’93.
He’d come just to visit a mate, Marty Davenport, for a weekend and a few beers, ‘‘and immediately decided to live here’’.
After telling his mate’s dad, who owned a jewellery store in The Mall, what he’d done in Japan, the latter said there were a lot of foreign staff working in local shops who couldn’t speak English properly.
‘‘I said, ‘is there a language school here?’ and he said ‘no’.’’
So then and there, Hughes decided to open Queenstown Language School, leasing Camp Street premises where Bungalow bar now is.
He announced he’d take enrollments over a two-week period, but only signed up his first student, a Japanese woman, on the second Friday.
But by Monday, April 19, he had 10 students, all Japanese, whom he proceeded to teach in three learning streams.
‘‘The vision was to create a place where students from all over the world could come to Queenstown to learn English and have a great time here,’’ he says.
Except after the initial 10-week courses finished, ‘‘the numbers of students started going down pretty quick’’.
So after getting advice from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Hughes took a business trip to five Asian countries to sign up agents.
Meanwhile, within a year of opening, two other local language schools set up which are also still in business — ‘‘and no more and no less’’.
In ’97, he bought a Robins Road property, moved his school there and also bought the next-door property, too.
A year later, he bought a Christchurch language school, though only after he got it for free.
Then, in 2002, he also opened Wellington Language School, and briefly, under new name Language Schools NZ, owned the country’s largest language school chain.
Due to a lack of students, however, he closed the Welly branch that same year.
‘‘When asking a Japanese agent why it wasn’t popular, the answer was ‘too windy, many Japanese have contact lenses’.’’
In 2006, Hughes joined the tourism industry by setting up Queenstown Sea Kayaks after a friend visiting from South Africa was surprised there weren’t any kayaks on the lake.
As well as running sea kayaks, he bought pedal boats and other craft from an existing operator.
‘‘I didn’t make any money and had to get used to the damn phone ringing on Christmas Day.’’
He sold the business in about 2010 and that year also set up a Montessori preschool in his Robins Rd premises — this came after he couldn’t find a kindy for his daughter, Lexie, by his first marriage.
Before eventually closing it, the preschool had up to 100 kids per week.
Meanwhile, he’d also closed his Christchurch language school after that city’s big quake in 2011, relocating its staff and students to his Queenstown school.
Covid then rattled his local school in 2020 at a time he’d had 93 students and 15 staff.
He had to shut for international students for two-and-a-half years, while at one stage offering free classes to locals.
Hughes says he didn’t mind the break too much as he’d remarried in 2019 — his wife, Gina, had been an agent for him in Japan — and they’d had a child, Gigi (a ‘G’ for both Gina and Guy).
He’s since reopened the Queenstown school ‘‘with an awesome and unbeatable team’’, and rebranded to LSNZ — ‘‘it’s easier to say and type’’.
Pre-Covid, he’d had about 100 families earn extra coin by hosting students, however they’re now more commonly accommodated across his five homes.
He’s proud many students have also bolstered the local workforce, while studying, and some have gone on to stay in town and become valuable members of the community.
Hughes says he understands he’s now the longest-staying language school founder in NZ.