Christchurch is making up for $300 million of lost ground in tourism spending since the earthquakes of 2010-11.

ChristchurchNZ chief executive Joanna Norris says there has been a shift in perception about the city.

''People understand that the city has reactivated - what is exciting is that a lot of infrastructure work that has been planned for years has come on stream.''

While there are still dozens of derelict or empty sites in the central city, tourism development is happening rapidly, particularly hotel projects.


During the past year the Distinction Hotel, with 179 rooms in Cathedral Square, and Crowne Plaza with 204 rooms in Colombo St have opened. A four-star Novotel near the city's airport has had its commissioning delayed, but is on track to open its doors in September.

At least six more hotels will be opening this year or next, adding hundreds more rooms to the supply, which will be much greater than pre-quake levels.

ChristchurchNZ is the city's economic development and tourism promotion agency. Its figures show the number of rooms in all accommodation is already just over 6000, about 78 per cent higher than before the earthquakes. That means the city isn't suffering the same squeeze as other centres where prices have risen steeply.

''With the number of beds that we have on stream and coming on stream, we have the headroom to absorb a number of issues that the rest of New Zealand is suffering from,'' says Norris.

A tram near the Christchurch Arts Centre. Photo / Supplied
A tram near the Christchurch Arts Centre. Photo / Supplied

Norris is a former editor of The Press, who took up the agency job last October.

Colleagues have told her there is now a shift in perception about Christchurch, which is no longer seen as just a gateway to other places in the South Island, but as a destination in its own right.

''From a visitor and resident perspective there is always something new - buyers internationally are starting to understand that and we really need to help Kiwis understand that.''

Aucklanders and Wellingtonians are being targeted for breaks in the city, where new attractions are opening up.


Norris says she is keen to develop Māori tourism, the ''absolute jewel'' of the Port Hills, and there are new ventures in the residential red zone, including kayaking from the Square to Brighton.

''Over the last seven years a lot of stories about the challenges of recovery - and that's part of the city's experience - but we need people to understand there is a whole lot that has happened and that Christchurch is quite a different place.''

There is still significant catching up to do.

''We estimate that the disruption caused by the quakes means we're $300m behind where we would otherwise be in terms of the value of the visitor economy, particularly impacted was the international markets.''

The city attracts 8 per cent of the $10.5 billion spent by international visitors in this country, but wants to boost its share to 12 per cent, she says.

The Chinese market is booming - growing at 22 per cent against the nationwide increase of 7 per cent - thanks to more direct air links through China Southern Airlines and seasonal services by Cathay Pacific.

The Kaikoura coast from a South Pacific Whale Watch aircraft. Photo / Supplied
The Kaikoura coast from a South Pacific Whale Watch aircraft. Photo / Supplied

Further north, the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 was a game changer for a new tourism business, South Pacific Whale Watch.

Its chief executive Daniel Stevenson says he opened his business a month earlier.

After the quake, "things dried up overnight,'' he says.

''We were lucky and went straight to the commercial side of it. We made some really good connections and did a lot of the rebuild work along the northern corridor.''

He started with one helicopter but now has two, and two fixed-wing planes for the tourism work, which has resumed and is going strong. It is aimed mainly at overseas visitors, but about 20 per cent of guests are Kiwis.

During the past summer there have been plenty of whales in the area and the 7.8 magnitude quake has led to a new flight, the Aftershock Adventure, which takes in the spot where cows were famously stranded, a new lake and the coastline that was dramatically changed.

''Out of adversity comes good things - it focuses everyone," says Stevenson. "People come back stronger.''