““Without international markets, I’m not convinced that we have the volume to keep all of our businesses going but we’re certainly doing everything we can to encourage as much economic activity as possible.””
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult is “over the moon” that the Crown is investing in the district’s recovery and is buoyed by the return of domestic business, but says there’s still a long journey ahead.
Having lost its international tourism market as a result of the global pandemic, Queenstown is in uncharted waters.
A May 2020 Infometrics report on the economic impacts of Covid-19 on Queenstown painted a bleak picture. That was based on a ‘do-nothing’ scenario. In reality, the district has been working very hard on recovery solutions yet considerable challenges remain.
“The return of domestic business has been great and it’s fantastic to see that Kiwis care and I very much thank them for hearing our plea and coming,” says Boult. “
The school holidays have been great and I think we’ll be okay for the ski season but after that it’s a cliff.
“Without international markets, I’m not convinced that we have the volume to keep all of our businesses going but we’re certainly doing everything we can to encourage as much economic activity as possible.”
Two taskforces have been set up in the district: one for short term recovery, focused on shovel- ready projects and building the domestic tourism market via attractive package deals and a vibrant events calendar; the second taskforce is looking long term at how the district can diversify into new areas such as technology, education and the film industry.
The Government has recognised the importance of protecting key tourism assets. AJ Hackett Bungy NZ has been awarded up to $10.2 million to help with staff retention.
Boult is hopeful that some of Queenstown’s other large businesses may attract similar support.
Another welcome boost from the Crown has been the recent announcement of an $85 million package for shovel-ready projects in Queenstown, split between funding to transform the town centre ($35m) and stage one of the Queenstown arterial road project ($50m).
“We’ve had many discussions with Government over this.
“The Prime Minister announced funding for those first two projects during her visit here in June. We’re over the moon about it.
“On their own, those two projects create about 300 jobs and the first of those will get underway in three months’ time.”
Inevitably, re-training is high on the agenda and the district has received $1.4 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to help people who have lost jobs to redeploy.
“You may have been driving a jet boat but will now have to drive a digger, or go from wielding a knife in the kitchen to using a shovel.”
In the Wild – a collaborative project involving the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), the Department of Conservation and the Otago Regional Council – is also identifying various ecological projects suited to people used to working in the outdoors and who may be out of a job.
A trans-Tasman bubble would have been very helpful for Queenstown this winter, but looks very unlikely to proceed in the near future.
Much has been done to support local people who are struggling, including migrant workers in need of help, advice and guidance.
Many migrant workers were effectively left stranded without a job or access to a benefit as a result of Covid-19.
Both the QLDC and the greater Queenstown community have provided considerable support to help those struggling with the basics of life, such as paying for doctors’ visits, food and rent.
Jim Boult’s message to New Zealanders is “now is a great time to visit!”
Many are heeding the message and Queenstown had a taste of what the future may eventually look like again during the July school holidays, with the town once again buzzing for the ‘Welcome to Winter’ festival.
“We had a magnificent fireworks display and the Earnslaw was back out on the lake again.
“There were hundreds of people having a good time despite it being cold and rainy; it was wonderful.”
Looking to the long term, he says nothing has changed in terms of his district being an attractive destination for both domestic and international visitors.
“I don’t know if we will ever get back to where we were, but we will continue to work to recover as fast as we can.”