On the Road with Tourism Ticker: Christchurch

Christchurch, New Zealand, 15 Feb 2017. The Sugarloaf transmission tower is threatened by multiple fires burning out of control in the Port Hills, south of Christchurch. Credit: Ross Younger/Mediary.

In the fourth and final instalment of our On the Road series, the Ticker‘s Bridget O’Connell is in Christchurch to hear the concerns of operators affected by the Port Hills blaze.

Christchurch again. A pleasant flight from Nelson this morning has reunited me with my car and today’s drive back to Wanaka is the final leg of my journey.

I should mention this trip actually had a dual purpose – business, as you know, and leisure in the form of a party in the Abel Tasman over the weekend. Bleisure travel. It’s a thing, I learnt about it at the CAUTHE conference.

This is to say, we might be new to the industry but we do at least know that it is not the best time of year to try and meet those deep into their busiest months.

I was hoping to catch a couple of operators during my return south. One being the Christchurch Adventure Park, which has been closed since 14 February due to the Port Hills fires.

We had been in touch last week and it was thought that by today there might be either access to the site or some news.

There is news, but I am not the first to hear it. Park spokeswoman Anne Newman confirms that the company has laid off staff on fixed-term contracts which were due to expire at the end of this month and April.

She wasn’t able to confirm numbers but said that the park had about 90 employees when it was forced to close on February 14 due to the fires, which have damaged the chairlift and other infrastructure but, fortunately, not the base and village.

She added that the fires are still burning and until access to the $24m site was granted there was no way of assessing the damage or how long the park might be closed. However, the group’s commitment to re-opening remains firm.

They are hopeful that access to the 900-acre park which opened in December might be cleared in the “next week or two” although there has been no official indication from the fire service.

I also speak to managing director Michael Esposito of Welcome Aboard, the group which owns the Christchurch Gondola, also located on the Port Hills.

It was closed for just a day due to power outages related to the fires but its location on the other side of the hills from the blaze meant it could continue to operate throughout.

Of course, numbers dropped the week of 14 February but were “pretty strong” again last week, according to Esposito, who muses on it being a “funny old couple of months”.

The Kaikoura earthquake led to some cancellations but these were balanced out by a pick-up from re-routed travellers coming to Christchurch. This was followed by Chinese New Year, which he described as “a fizzer”, and then the fires.

I think this pretty much sums up the feeling around most of the parts I have visited over the past several days.

Even Nelson, where spend is growing, I did not get the sense from operators that it has been the summer that was expected given the strong upward trend in activity of recent years.

As Esposito puts it, summer has been “steady, not spectacular”.

You can read Bridget’s previous On the Road columns in the blog section of the website.

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