Tourism Minister's bold call for Queenstown

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult (left) and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: Mountain Scene
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult (left) and Tourism Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: Mountain Scene
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash predicts Queenstown could enjoy a record ski season thanks to the transtasman bubble, and hints he’ll announce more measures to help the Covid-ravaged tourism industry next week.

In the resort on a family holiday last weekend, Nash spoke to Mountain Scene after he was spotted chatting with mayor Jim Boult at Exchange Cafe.

He’s previously suggested he’ll look at doing more for the battling tourism industry.

Nash now says in "a big speech" at TRENZ Hui 2021 — a tourism business event in Christchurch next week — he’s going to "outline a number of measures" to help.

He believes the long-awaited transtasman travel bubble, opened only last week, is a godsend for the industry.

"We’re not going to see profit how it was pre-Covid, but for a lot of businesses I think it’s the difference between going under and surviving till the international borders open."

He notes, according to very early airline bookings, there were about 16,000 people coming from Australia and 9600 going the other way.

"We always knew the first two weeks were going to be VFR [those visiting friends and relatives], but Tourism New Zealand kicks off with their really big campaign in Australia, ‘stop dreaming, Australia’, at the beginning of May, and I’ve seen how it looks and it’s really, really good.

"And so I think places like Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch, the ski areas, if the weather gods smile on us, it’s going to be a boomer, record ski season.

"It’s looking stunning.

"What I’ve heard is Australians travel more to ski than any other nationality in the world, so often they head to Europe or the States.

"Obviously they can’t do that at the moment, so the word we’re hearing is they are  grinding the skis, polishing the boots [and com ing here]."

Australians will help plug labour gaps

Nash readily puts in a plug for Boult — the two have each other’s numbers on speed-dial, he says: "Jim is the mayor of a town that has been extremely hard hit by the lack of international tourists, and he advocates very hard for his businesses and residents, so we knew we had to get that bubble open.

"But we know we couldn’t get that bubble open until it was safe to do so."

Nash — after being shown a sign at Exchange Cafe advertising for staff — is asked where workers will come from to avert a looming labour shortage.

His answer’s "Australia".

"Look, there are a lot of foreigners who are in Australia at the moment who can work over here, or they may love the ski season so they come over here for the skiing [and also seek work]."

As for the ski industry’s urgent plea for the government to allow more than 100 specialised staff into NZ, especially from the northern hemisphere, Nash says "we’re working on that, they’ve given a proposition to government".

"There is a moment now, with the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble, where there are  MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine] spaces, so what we’ve said to people is, ‘get your people in, in June, but if you’re waiting till July, August, September, when we’ve got Olympians back, etc, that’s when it tightens up’."

Speaking of international borders, Nash agrees it might be next year before they open.

NZers, he says, also need to see the value of getting vaccinated "in terms of getting our borders open".

No room at Flame

During his tourist visit to Queenstown Nash dined with family at Halo and been on Shotover Jet, raving about both, and was due to take the Skyline gondola and eat at Fergburger.

He’d also hoped to dine at Flame Bar & Grill, whose co-owner Lou McDowell had originally planned a protest rallyfor when he was last in town, to plead for a trans-Tasman bubble and a way forward.

Ironically, however, it was booked out — "I’m really pleased they’re that busy I can’t get in".

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