Christchurch: Off the ropes - fighting fit

By Ewan McDonald

Christchurch is scarred but it's back on tourism duty, writes Ewan McDonald

Christchurch CBD's rebuild includes hotels and cafes that are racing to be ready by Christmas. Photo / Supplied
Christchurch CBD's rebuild includes hotels and cafes that are racing to be ready by Christmas. Photo / Supplied

When a TV network decides to make a reality show called My Job From Hell Tim Hunter will probably feature in the first episode. For two years all the world has seen of his patch are deaths and destruction. Maybe the odd rugby match.

He promotes tourism in a city where most major hotels are demolished. The airport is operating, but cruise ships won't call for two or more years. Tourists have been scared off.

The CEO of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism is remarkably chipper.

"Before the earthquakes, we had three dynamics driving our visitor numbers," he says.

"The first were New Zealanders, mostly from the region outside Christchurch and the rest of the South Island, who came for a weekend, for sport, for events and shows. That stalled, but it's coming back as we bring back events like the Flower Show and the Buskers' Festival."

Those visitors mostly stayed outside the CBD in motels and caravan parks, which were less affected and quicker to get back on their feet.

"The long-haul tourists (from Japan and Asia) have mostly forgotten about the earthquakes and they are back. So are the Americans.

"The Europeans. We know what's happening in their economies. That sector is ..." he searches for a diplomatic phrase. "Tired. Auckland and Wellington will tell you the same thing."

Australian campervanners, winter holidaymakers and adventure tourists were the backbone of Canterbury's tourism. "All they have is a perception of a city that is horribly broken. Two years of those images on Australian TV - every time there is another aftershock, they replay the footage - have left an impression on the hard drives of Australian minds.

"The thing that will give Australians confidence is the understanding that people here are living ordinary lives."

Why would they, or anyone, come here? "To see what a city in transition can do. To see that a city that was broken is still functioning, is back on its feet."

Before the earthquakes, Christchurch had 1000 eateries; it lost 330, mostly in the visitor-friendly inner city. It had 35 hotels and backpackers; most of the big ones in the CBD. Six have reopened; four more hope to put out the welcome mat before Christmas.

The double-edged sword has been the cruise ships. As more liners embrace New Zealand ports, Lyttelton is sunk. "We estimate 140,000 Australians will come to Canterbury on cruise ships this year; only 34 per cent will spend a day in Christchurch. On average they spend US$100 ($120) a day. We are blessed to have Akaroa in our region, and it will benefit. And, of course, Christchurch simply does not have the infrastructure to cope with those numbers of visitors at the moment."

- NZ Herald

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