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Figures provided to the Otago Daily Times this week showed spending on hotels and motels in the Queenstown Lakes district was down 63.1% on July 5 and 6 compared with the first weekend of the holidays last year.
Southland, including Fiordland, was down 55.7%.
On the positive side, the Mackenzie district was up 52.6%, Waitaki 16%, Dunedin 14%, Central Otago 13.7% and Invercargill 9.9%.
The figures were provided by Wellington analytics agency DOT Loves Data and taken from eftpos transactions.
The agency’s "government director", former Wellington mayor Justin Lester, said on Thursday the figures showed Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau were struggling due to the lack of international tourists, with domestic tourists not making up the numbers.
"Families from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are largely choosing to holiday close to home with travelling distance of no more than three to four hours," he said.
Overall spending in the Queenstown Lakes district was down 39%, and also down in Gore (-14.9%) and Southland District (-13.4%).
It was up in the Mackenzie district (11.5%), Central Otago (3.2%), Dunedin (2.7%), Invercargill (1.2%), Clutha (1%) and Waitaki (0.3%).
Mr Lester said there was a "clear halo effect" around main population centres as families escaped to surrounding destinations.
"The reduced numbers of flights and higher travel costs show the preferred mode of travel is the family car, with the majority of people not venturing too far from home."
Restaurant spending in the Mackenzie district — including Twizel and Tekapo — was up 57.7% while spending in Southland was down 46% and in Queenstown Lakes 25.7%.
Other restaurant spending figures showed increases in Invercargill (8.9%), Central Otago (8.8%), Dunedin (3%), Clutha (2.4%) and decreases in Gore (-21.2%), Waitaki (-16.4%) and Central Otago (-13.7%).
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult was not surprised by the figures and said while the district was "quite busy", there was likely to be worse to come.
"There’s a cliff edge coming up after ski season and I don’t think we are gong to see Kiwis travelling here in great numbers until Christmas-New Year."
Mr Boult said the council was trying to attract events and conferences but "these things don’t happen in five minutes and you’ve got to work really hard to get them".