Christchurch earthquake: Hotel operators in dark while cordon remains

By Owen Hembry

Backpackers were evacuated from the Hotel Stonehurst in Gloucester St after the earthquake. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Backpackers were evacuated from the Hotel Stonehurst in Gloucester St after the earthquake. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Christchurch hoteliers are waiting to assess the damage to tourist accommodation with the safety cordon around the city centre covering about 3000 hotel rooms.

A Hotel Council spokeswoman said 23 hotels were within the cordon area, which could be accessed only by authorised emergency personnel.

Matt Taplin, vice-president of operations at Millennium, Copthorne and Kingsgate Hotels in New Zealand, said the company had not had any access to its properties.

"At this stage we've got no knowledge of how our three hotels have fared inside the cordon so we'll just have to sit and wait until we get access unfortunately."

There had been no indication when access might be possible, Taplin said.

"I think they've got far greater priorities in front of them at the moment."

Christchurch YMCA chief executive Josie Schroeder said both the hostel and the roughly 120-year-old Williams House on the edge of the cordon had been green stickered.

"Which basically means that structurally they're okay," Schroeder said. "Haven't been internally inspected yet but that's a pretty good sign for us."

There were about 250 people staying at the YMCA when the earthquake struck and everyone escaped unhurt, Schroeder said.

Inside it was a shambles.

"We can't open until they get water and power back on and they loosen the cordon."

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said the organisation was trying to complete a stocktake of accommodation in Christchurch by tomorrow, followed by the regions around the city by Friday.

"We've got to do it properly because it's going to be used by a whole lot of organisations in terms of assessing the way forward for tourism," Hunter said.

"We'll initially take a large hit and as accommodation is restored we want to actually see what happens over the next few months in terms of getting that capacity back."

Accommodation capacity was crucial to how many visitors could be brought into the city.

"I think we've got to accept that for the next few weeks particularly we want to discourage people from coming to Christchurch for leisure purposes because we need that hotel stock for more important tasks."

There was no hindrance to airport operations, rental car and coach depots, Hunter said.

"The South Island apart from Christchurch is operating completely normally in a tourism sense.

"So it's really important we don't discourage people from coming in through Christchurch."

Destination Queenstown chief executive Tony Everitt said the message that it was business as usual in the rest of the South Island was getting through, although at the same time television stations internationally were showing pictures of Christchurch's central business district.

"There are some cancellations, just the extent and how long that's going to continue and what the impact of that is we're just trying to get a handle on that at this stage," Everitt said.

Tourism was the significant industry for Queenstown, with about 10,000 commercial beds and visitors estimated to have spent $780 million last year.

It was peak season for international visitors, with February the busiest month of the year.

"Right at this instant we've still got pretty good numbers in town," he said.

"We've also been working with national and international agencies, Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand in particular, helping to communicate via them out to the markets in the far corners of the world.

"It does appear that in some of the markets there have been a few cancellations, perhaps particularly some of the Asia-Japan markets are a little bit more risk sensitive."

One priority was to work with Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism to help rebuild their capability.

- NZ Herald

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