Dunedin's hotel clock is ticking

Another international music heavyweight is coming to Dunedin and another stadium sell-out is on the cards. Accommodation sell-outs in and around the city are on the cards too.

Meanwhile, some 360km north, timelines are firming and plans are being drawn for what will likely be a 30,000-seat roofed stadium in Christchurch.

It will be newer than Dunedin's, closer to a major airport capable of accommodating wide-body aircraft, and it will sit in the heart of a city more than three times as populous as Dunedin.

It would be easy to look at the imminent Christchurch stadium and suppose events like the upcoming Eagles concert must be enjoyed while they can, in case they are a thing of the past once the Christchurch stadium is complete.

Dunedin Venues Management Ltd's chief executive Terry Davies does not share such defeatism. He believes Forsyth Barr Stadium's long head start, its burgeoning history of successful concerts and the city's ongoing positive relationships with promoters means Dunedin will continue to be a major player for international music acts, even after Christchurch's new stadium has risen.

While he may be right, there is no harm in Dunedin doing all it can to ensure its proverbial goose can continue to lay its golden eggs.

Matching Christchurch for population is not going to happen. Finding the money to completely refresh Dunedin's stadium is almost as unlikely.

There are arguments for and against increasing Dunedin Airport's runway but, without a significant increase in wide-body demand, such a massive project will not happen any time soon. It is, therefore, unlikely Dunedin will be able to counter many of the arguments Christchurch will put to concert promoters in coming years.

There is one other ace Christchurch has up its sleeve - hotels. Its accommodation options dwarf Dunedin's, especially in the four and five-star accommodation sector. On this, Dunedin can and must compete.

Dunedin has added hundreds of hotel beds in recent years, but the much-anticipated five-star hotel development is yet to materialise. There are many reasons for this, and few would suggest the options put on the table to date were perfect.

Nevertheless, some facts are indisputable: Dunedin needs more high-end hotel beds; the city's stadium will suffer a competitive disadvantage if those beds do not exist by the time Christchurch's stadium is up and running; and private investors have been willing to throw vast sums of money into investigating where and how they could build a five-star hotel in Dunedin.

The demand is there. Yet no consent for such a hotel has been given.

That is not to suggest the Dunedin City Council is to blame for the slow progress to date. But with a deadline looming - one which, if not met, could cost the city millions of dollars a year - the council must ensure one or more top-end hotels are built in the city over the next few years.

If levers need to be pulled, perhaps council needs to get pulling. If planning restrictions need tweaking, maybe those tweaks should happen now. If, on balance, it becomes clear planning concessions must be made, then ideals may end up being compromised. Excuses involving tied hands, bureaucratic realities, architectural integrity or similar may well ring hollow if millions of dollars in trade each year vanishes up the road.

There must be a tactical awareness of when Dunedin can afford the privilege of conservatism and when it must fight for people's livelihoods in a fiercely competitive market.

Population size and airport capacity are realities that will skew heavily in favour of Christchurch for ongoing concerts. Hotel developments are something the city can much more easily control, something it can compete on. And compete it must.


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