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Struggling with no international visitors, Queenstown businesses call for more support


Businesses in Queenstown are calling for more support as local tourism slows down after the summer peak, and overseas travellers remain barred.

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Local tourism is slowing down after the summer peak. Source: 1 NEWS

They want a targeted wage subsidy for regions struggling without international visitors, warning there might not be much left when they are allowed back in.

Queenstown was one of the places to be around the country around the New Year’s period.

The streets were packed, and tourism and hospitality businesses were humming.

But three weeks into 2021, Queenstown was virtually a ghost town.

“Christmas and New Year's was good. Plenty of kiwis coming to support us, great to see them. But the new reality is setting in now after they have left gone back to work,” Steve Bradley from the Fergburger Group said.

Around 30,000 visitors a day were usually in the tourist mecca for the peak summer season.

“International visitors spend around four times the rate than what Kiwis do so we are suffering a big loss at the present time,” Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult said.

Totally Tourism offers scenic flights and cruises around Queenstown, Milford Sound and the West Coast.

But most of its helicopters are not being used.

“Like all operators we are treading water. Typically over summer we would be banking money to take us through the whole year, the quiet season, but this is proving to be the quiet season,” Mark Quickfall said.

Operators believe Kiwis are staying closer to home.

“The Kiwi beaches… Why wouldn't you want to be there. So we haven't seen as many people and people have done their trip,” Steve Bradley said.

Destination Queenstown spokesperson Richard Thomas said “going into the next few weeks and into February are looking pretty soft. It's pretty hard to replace that large international market.”

The situation for many in the resort town is getting critical.

Mayor Boult said “unless we see an Aussie bubble, I think an introduction of the wage subsidy is probably the best solution”.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said he understands parts of the country are still facing challenges despite a strong rebound in the economy.

But Nash said there is a wide range of financial support available, including the $400 million Tourism Recovery Package and interest-free loans for small businesses.

“There needs to be another look at support or businesses will fall over and businesses we have protected through the initial wage subsidy will largely be wasted and undone,” said Steve Bradley.

Or, he warns, there might not be much left of New Zealand's premiere visitor hub when tourists eventually return.