Earthquakes changing 'Old English' identity for Christchurch's tourism

By Shelley Robinson

The earthquakes claimed many heritage buildings, including Warners Hotel, Cranmer Centre. Photo / Christchurch Star
The earthquakes claimed many heritage buildings, including Warners Hotel, Cranmer Centre. Photo / Christchurch Star

The city has always been dubbed the most English city outside of England.

But the earthquakes claimed many heritage buildings, including Warners Hotel, Cranmer Centre, or left others partially intact like the Cathedral.

The city council draft visitor strategy says, as a result, the city has lost much of its "external" identity - including its "Old English" theme, anchored by the Cathedral and "other notable inner city buildings".

It will, says the strategy, impact local pride and confidence and impede the city's economic, social and cultural development.

The city's visitor economy has lost about $1 billion since the February 22, 2011 earthquake and the outlook is grim for the next two years.

But Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism industry partnership manager Caroline Blanchfield said when selling the city, the "old English" identity never took centre stage - it was only a very small part of the story.

Instead, the 'Garden City' was the selling concept, still very much alive alongside being "a gateway to the South Island", she said.

Canterbury University associate professor in marketing Ekant Veer said the "old English" brand meant more to the city personally as an identity, evidenced by the city council using the Cathedral as its logo.

"That was the identity everyone focused inwards towards," he said.

Canterbury University associate professor in marketing Ekant Veer said the "old English" brand meant more to the city personally as an identity. Photo / Christchurch Star
Canterbury University associate professor in marketing Ekant Veer said the "old English" brand meant more to the city personally as an identity. Photo / Christchurch Star

Mr Veer understand why. He has a Cathedral tattoo, with the dates of the September and February earthquakes and the number of those who perished on his leg because he "never wanted to forget".

But he said despite this, he thinks the earthquakes and the Cathedral should not be central to how we market ourselves in the future.

"There is still a perception that we are a ruined city, all you see is a ruined Cathedral and that is bad for identity in my mind," he said.

"A lot of people . . . want to go back. But we are a changing developing city with 30 to 40,000 new immigrants for the rebuild . . . we need to adapt and develop," he said.

Tourism-wise, a "unique" identity is vital - and the Garden City may not be it, as many places had "good gardens", he said.

But Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the Garden City identity was still relevant but was much more about sustainability, as it was "parks and trees".

Mr Veer said the new identity may be a balance of old and new, a "cool lively" green sustainable city" - but it may take a while to find, he said.

- Christchurch Star

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