'The Chinese have almost disappeared from Queenstown'

The Government has been advised allowing bed taxes by the Productivity Commission. Photo: Getty...
A government-imposed travel ban because of the coronavirus outbreak has changed everything for Queenstown tourist operators. Photo: Getty
A Queenstown businessman says he started the year believing the summer of 2020 would be the best ever for his business.

Now he’s having second thoughts.

Nomad Safaris operator David Gatward-Ferguson.
Nomad Safaris operator David Gatward-Ferguson.
Like accommodation providers, retailers and other tourist operators in the resort, he’s come to rely on visitors from China, but a government-imposed travel ban because of the coronavirus outbreak has changed everything.

Nomad Safaris operator David Gatward-Ferguson says he’s never experienced such a plummet in business.

“It affects us significantly – I’d say we’ve had a drop of about 25 percent in our business in February compared to last year.”

He reckons it’s “too late” to replace the Chinese market, which makes up about 12 percent of the resort’s visitors.

“People in Germany or any other country will not suddenly decide to visit Queenstown, it’s too late for that.

“I started this year thinking this would be our best summer ever, but actually it’s been the worst one in the last few years.”

The travel ban, on foreign travellers leaving from or transiting through mainland China, was introduced on February 2 for an initial two-week period, then extended last Saturday for another eight days.

Director of local and national tourist retailer Aotea Gifts, Richard Hanson, says foot traffic has slowed considerably in the past fortnight.

“The Chinese have almost disappeared from Queenstown.

“There will be uncertainty in the tourism sector until people have the confidence to travel, and this could take some time.”

Queenstown Luxury Property Management looks after about 50 Airbnb properties, and owner Aaron Murphy says he’s had 20-30 reservations cancelled since the outbreak.

Although that’s hard for his business, he understands the situation.

“What everyone wants is to be safe.”

While he’s aware other accommodation managers are upset with Airbnb’s decision to activate its ‘extenuating circumstances policy’ to offer impacted guests the option of cancellation without charges, Murphy supports the company’s decision.

“I understand the managers, but also understand the tourist – we can’t imagine what China is going through.

“I think in times like these, it’s important to think more on the human side and not worry only about money.”

Tourism Industry Aotearoa comms manager Ann-Marie Johnson says the resort’s hotels are now receiving cancellations for next month and into early April.

“The situation’s been compounded by the closure of the road into Milford Sound, which is also affecting travellers to the region.”

Johnson says trading levels at the resort’s hotels remained relatively strong for the first half of February, but the affects of the Covid-19 outbreak are now starting to be more widely felt.

“TIA is not hearing of job losses yet, but casual staff are being impacted in the short term.”

The government’s funding announcement of $11 million and $1m for international and domestic marketing, respectively, this week has been welcomed by Destination Queenstown chairman Richard Thomas.

“We’ll be working closely with the agencies involved to establish what the opportunity for Queenstown is with this funding.”

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