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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

South Island tourism industry in strife

South Island tourism industry in strife

Last updated 05:00 20/04/2011
The South Island tourism industry is in crisis after the February earthquake, tourism leaders say.

Tourism brought more than $1 billion a year to Christchurch and directly employed 22,000 people, Ministry of Economic Development figures show.

The number of overseas visitors through Christchurch International Airport has fallen almost 25 per cent compared with the same time last year.

Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said "there are a lot of people out of work in the tourism industry".

There were 600 businesses linked to CCT, Hunter said, and several – including the International Antarctic Centre, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and Black Cat Cruises – switched to winter staffing levels immediately after the February 22 quake.

Some businesses had shed 30 per cent of their staff.

"What we are seeing is that this earthquake has damaged South Island tourism to the tune of as much as 30 per cent at the moment."

Hunter said the impact was being felt as far as Queenstown, Mt Cook and Te Anau.

The Government's eight-week wage-subsidy package, which ended yesterday, had given tourism businesses time to plan their future.

The package has been replaced with a more tightly targeted six-week package.

"I think we will see quite an acceleration of the numbers of companies who decide to close down a number of products or close down all together," Hunter said.

Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult said: "We are currently in the midst of the biggest crisis that South Island tourism has ever faced, and it is imperative that we have a strong and functional tourism body ... to ensure Christchurch doesn't disappear off the tourist map."

About 90 per cent of overseas tourists to the South Island arrived through Christchurch, he said.

"I think you will find there is not an operator in the South Island that hasn't been affected in some way."

Boult said West Coast tourism businesses were some of the hardest-hit, and international airlines flying into Christchurch were concerned because their passenger numbers were down.

"If we don't do something to address the situation, we will start to lose air services into Christchurch."

If they withdrew, it would take years to win them back, Boult said.

The Government this week announced a $1.6 million funding boost for Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism to get the message across that Christchurch was the gateway to the South Island, and Canterbury and the South Island were open for tourism.

International Antarctic Centre manager David Ferrand said the business had had to restructure after the quake, but he declined to reveal the cut in staff numbers.

Many people were visiting the centre during the school holidays, he said.

Black Cat Cruises operator Paul Bingham said some tourism operators were planning itineraries that missed Christchurch and, as a result, were bypassing his Akaroa cruises.

He visited tour operators in Auckland last week to explain that Akaroa was not damaged by the February earthquake.

33 hotels, 10 open.
110 motels, 105 open.
26 backpackers, 10 open.
17 holiday parks, all open.

- The Press

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