Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Christchurch gearing up for tourism rebirth

Cardboard cathedral attracts interest and new tram route set to open in October.

Photo / christchurchnz.com
Photo / christchurchnz.com

Tourism forecasts find growth in the Australian market is being crimped by capacity constraints following the Christchurch earthquakes although tourist authorities say the city is rapidly reopening for business.

A Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment tourism sector outlook for 2013-19 finds the Australian market - our biggest by numbers and value with spending of $1.6 billion a year - will grow only moderately in the next two to three years.

While the Australian domestic economy was weakening and exchange rates made travelling to Southeast Asia more attractive, family holiday-makers appear less likely to visit Christchurch after the earthquakes with a lack of accommodation and airline capacity also reducing inbound travel.

Queenstown will pick up some of these visitors but total visitor arrivals from Australia will be lower overall, the forecasts found.

Chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism Tim Hunter earlier this year told a conference that "almost overnight" Canterbury dropped 46 per cent in international guest nights.

"There is no event since World War II that has disrupted our tourism industry by so much and for so long," Hunter said.

Yesterday he said that before the earthquakes the city had 3.2 million international visitor nights a year, but this plunged by one million the next year.

A tourism "recovery roadmap" shows that by the end of the year there are expected to be 5063 rooms in hotels, motels, backpackers, bed and breakfasts, holiday parks and apartments and lodges. By the end of 2015 this will grow 15 per cent to 5810.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism said about 500 new rooms were expected to come on to the market this year.

"Getting accommodation back is really important but with that we've got to make sure that the central city area where a lot of these new hotels are reopening is a viable place for visitors."

Around the city the Port Hills gondola reopened, the cardboard cathedral was attracting interest and the tram, which will follow a new route, is set to reopen on October 4.

About six or seven new bars and restaurants are being opened a month in the city which had 794 hospitality outlets now, about 20 per cent down on pre-quake levels.

Hunter said the second part of last summer saw a big pickup in international visitors, due partly to marketing around the world.

Overall the "Australian market has been really difficult to get back" but the Asian and the United States markets were performing well.

Last month hotel occupancy was about 71 per cent - the same as other big centres - although this was distorted by high business occupancy during the week, he said.

"They still need to fill up over the weekend and that's where we need to do more marketing."

Most domestic tourists were coming to visit friends and families, or were in the city on business.

In April the city's new $237 million Christchurch Airport terminal was opened and the airport company is forecasting passenger numbers will rise from 5.4 million this year to 5.9 million in 2016.

- NZ Herald

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