Mike Hosking is a breakfast host on Newstalk ZB.

Mike Hosking: Queenstown NZ's model for reaping tourist dollars

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The Remarkables ski field near Queenstown.
The Remarkables ski field near Queenstown.

I have done some research. Now tourism is this country's number one income earner, I thought it worth exploring. So I went on holiday.

I remember not so long ago when they talked of cracking the two million mark for visitors per year. That came and went, and we've now cracked three million.

Depending how you slice it, you can add up a group of figures that comes to about $25 billion in income. It's a phenomenal figure and it shows no signs of slowing.

So my research took me to Queenstown.

The first clue about just how much this business is booming comes when the pilot pulls out of the landing at the last minute because the runway is too full of planes. As we accelerate out and back into the air, the announcement is made that this is normal operating procedure, and the pilot will address us all shortly. The pilot tells us the place is packed; that's what happens about this time of day.

I have had a love affair with Central Otago for about 25 years. They used to say when I first found my way to the place that Queenstown was overdeveloped. I never thought so, and I don't think it now.

You want quiet?

Go to Wanaka, Cromwell or Alexandra. They're all spectacular places in their own right. I have nothing but fond memories - memories of sitting in the broadcast caravan at Molyneux Park in Alex, eating cherries, listening to Iain Gallaway commentate the cricket, or Fleur's famed restaurant in Clyde. I spent one summer driving around the place, interviewing locals for holiday inserts for the radio station I worked at back in Dunedin.

The only thing that went wrong for me in Central Otago was the time my girlfriend dumped me for a jet boat driver. I said at the time it wouldn't last, and it didn't, but that's another story.

Queenstown wins my prize for the greatest place in the country. It delivers on the promise like nowhere else. That's not to say other places aren't brilliant, because they are. But Queenstown is top to bottom brilliant.

It does no wrong. It sells itself as the adventure capital of the world and it gives you exactly what it says it will. As a package it is unrivalled. It is slick, organised and professional. It is there to deliver thrills and memories and they're available on every corner.

If this is our biggest income earner, then Queenstown has the model down pat.

And it is full. I was there in January, it was full. I was there this past weekend, it was full. We booked a couple of months ago and we got the last room in a very large resort.

If there is a potential issue with Queenstown it might well be that it is full to bursting. You can see why they have issues hiring people, and finding places to live. It is a living, breathing example of what life looks like when you're spectacularly successful.

Night flights are coming this winter, the airport looks like it needs to expand - everything looks like it needs to expand. But those are not bad problems to have.

What's even more amazing is how expensive it is, but it doesn't seem to stop anyone. It's the old debate around tourism: who is your ideal punter? Queenstown's answer would appear to be the person who wants to spend a small fortune having an endless series of thrills.

Now my research is not scientific, but the people taking the holidays and spending the coin aren't all foreigners. If my random sampling is anything to go by this past weekend, you could have split the punters 50/50.

Everything is a couple of hundred bucks. You want to jump off a bridge? Two hundred bucks. You want to parasail? That's cheap apparently at around $150. Getting to the top of the gondola with luge rides for a large family is eye-watering, and yet the queue is out the door and down the road.

There is a queue everywhere, which is no good if you're desperate for a Ferg's burger, but a very real sign that loads of people are willing to wait and willing to pay.

Jetboating? That's $200. As for parasailing, we watched from the wharf as we waited for the kids to be brought back to land, and maybe eight or nine boats were leaving, each with 15 to 18 people. Do the math: that's 3 to 3 grand on every boat.

Then there're the boats on the rivers. Fully booked, bus after bus delivering more and more punters forking out for the fun. Queenstown gets 1.5 million visitors a year and growing. The international links get stronger every month.

They pay $300 to jump out of a plane, a couple of hundred to launch themselves off a hill. Driving in from Arrowtown towards Queenstown, the hillside is festooned with parachutes; it's a highway of aerial fun.

And that's before you get to the stuff I don't and didn't do ... the skiing, the 'copter rides into the mountains, the hunting, the shooting, the fishing, the whitewater rafting.

If you fancy a go at something, your dreams come true in Queenstown.

And what's so remarkable is the space. For a place that's full, it's empty three minutes out of town; vast green spaces and the natural wonder that made the place famous in the first place.

As you fly out and look down, you see thousands and thousands of hectares of untouched land. For a place the critics say has been overdeveloped, there still appears to be a phenomenal amount of room to move. If this is our future, if this is the business to pay the bills, then we're doing well.

Of course the bonus being there for Easter was that it was - unlike so much of the country - open for business.

And if we're going to be in the business of tourism, let's get our act together on those trading laws. Queenstown's open, Wanaka isn't. Taupo is, Rotorua isn't. That's insane.

This entire country is a tourist hotspot. We either want to do this right or we don't.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Mike Hosking is a breakfast host on Newstalk ZB.

Mike has been Newstalk ZB’s breakfast host since taking over from Sir Paul Holmes in 2008. He also hosts TVNZ’s nightly current affairs show, Seven Sharp. Mike's insightfulness and knowledge makes him one of New Zealand’s most successful broadcasters.

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