Tale of two towns: Domestic tourists step into breach

Holidaymakers enjoyed the aroma of the Wanaka Lavender Farm over the holiday period. PHOTO: LAURA...
Holidaymakers enjoyed the aroma of the Wanaka Lavender Farm over the holiday period. PHOTO: LAURA SMITH
A tale of two towns. The Christmas-New Year period has been a mixed bag across the Queenstown Lakes district. While Wanaka has welcomed bolstered tourist numbers, no influx of visitors  has landed in Queenstown.

Regions reporters Laura Smith (Wanaka)  and Guy Williams (Queenstown) take a closer look.

Wanaka: Holding steady

The holiday period has brought economic successes despite the New Zealand border being closed, Wanaka businesses say.

Domestic tourists have flocked to the lakes and there have been reports of traffic queues, buzzing hospitality businesses and busy tourism operators.

That has been welcome news for many — following months of empty streets and vacant parking spaces.

It had not all been gloom. Wanaka’s Puzzling World marketing

and operations manager Duncan Spear said solid numbers of domestic tourists over winter and spring had given the business hope summer would be good, as it was now proving to be.

"With careful planning, amazing staff, great local support and governmental help we’ve weathered the biggest downturn in our 48-year history and have come out a little battered but not out."

He called it a tale of two halves.

Between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, the numbers were down on last year.

But since then, the numbers had been better than in 2019.

He expected the end of the month to be slower, and without any international visitors, February would be a struggle.

"So long as Covid-19 stays out of the community and allows us to remain open we’re confident we can stay viable.

A short distance up the road, Wonderland Makarora Lodge accommodation was at capacity.

The Blue Pools Track, near Makarora, was busy on Monday PHOTO: LAURA SMITH
The Blue Pools Track, near Makarora, was busy on Monday PHOTO: LAURA SMITH
General manager Mike Smith said from Christmas, there had been a constant stream of customers.

Some were walking the nearby Blue Pools Track, others were travelling to the West Coast and some were simply on a day trip.

Last week, the lodge doubled its best pre-Covid week in terms of accommodation.

The pricing structure had been changed since Covid-19 hit to tailor to an almost 100% domestic market, he said.

Prior to this, 70% of its guests were overseas visitors.

"We’ve taken the position that if we can keep our head above water and be successful to a Kiwi-only market, then when the borders open up we will be in a good space to restart, relaunch."

It had also been an educational time, Mr Smith said. He had learned New Zealanders left bookings to the very last minute.

Bookings were sitting at 60% to 70% of where they were last year.

But on Wednesday, on-the-day bookings brought that up to about 85% occupancy.

This summer was the seventh for the Wanaka Lavender Farm to be open for walks and experiences.

Owner Tim Zeestraten said the crowds had been expected.

Visitor numbers were about the same as last year, but a drop was expected when people headed back to work next week.

While people were visiting from all over New Zealand, the business was being cautious about what it invested money in or produced.

"Any moment now we could be in lockdown — who knows?"

Specific products, such as manuka honey, were mainly bought by international visitors, while New Zealanders bought other products.

Queenstown: Quiet start

After a spike in visitor numbers each side of New Year’s, January is off to a quiet start in Queenstown.

Queenstown Holiday Parks and Motels Creeksyde co-owner Erna Spijkerbosch said occupancy was hovering at between 40% and 60% after a busier period after Christmas.

Mrs Spijkerbosch said the holiday park was usually full at this time of year, but she had heard people were choosing to vacation in "small nooks and crannies" in the region instead of Queenstown.

"There’s a definite prejudice against coming to Queenstown — it’s the tall poppy syndrome."

Customers disembark from a KJet boat on Queenstown’s waterfront yesterday. PHOTO: GUY WILLIAMS
Customers disembark from a KJet boat on Queenstown’s waterfront yesterday. PHOTO: GUY WILLIAMS
Other barometers of activity, such as empty town centre car parks and being able to get restaurant tables without booking, indicated the resort was experiencing a significant drop-off in visitor numbers, she said.

New Zealand Hostel Association chairman Brett Duncan, who runs the Adventure Queenstown hostels in Athol St and Camp St, said he had just eight guests over Christmas and the lead-up had been the leanest period since lockdown.

"The start of December was dire ... the worst since I have been here, and matches the horror stories I have heard from 2005-6, when it was last this quiet in Queenstown," Mr Duncan said.

Business boomed for hostels between December 27 and January 2 or 3, with most fully booked in the resort, but it had since tapered off and they were back to an estimated 30% occupancy across town.

However, KJet owner Shaun Kelly said he was pleased with the business it was doing during the holiday period so far, 400-500 people a day taking its jet-boat rides on Lake Wakatipu and the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers.

Mr Kelly said although the loss of the international market, particularly Asian visitors, had hurt, a price reduction had hit a "sweet spot for Kiwis".

"It’s been really good — I was quietly confident and it’s become reality."

He expected visitor numbers to fall from Monday, when many people returned to work, but he hoped for a "second wave" before the school holidays ended.

 

 

 

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