Mt John Observatory’s partnership with China Southern Airlines is worth $450,000 over three years with 10% of it going towards tourism infrastructure in the Mackenzie district.
The unique deal signed in April between the airline and the University of Canterbury, which operates the observatory at Lake Tekapo, sees China Southern pay the institution $150,000 annually for three years.
The money is to go towards research and opportunities at the observatory.
The Mackenzie District Council was to receive $15,000 a year from each annual payment but it is understood the university has already paid the total $45,000 to help the council deal with pressing tourism infrastructure demands.
The council was unavailable for comment on how the funds would be spent.
A University of Canterbury spokeswoman said the first year’s funding from China Southern had come through but it had yet to be allocated to a specific project at the observatory.
Astro-tourism operator Earth & Sky Ltd manages public night-time stargazing and telescope viewing at Mt John Observatory. A joint venture between Earth & Sky and Ngāi Tahu Tourism received $3m from the Tourism Growth Partnership fund last year for the development of a new International Astronomy Centre at Lake Tekapo.
The China Southern funding details come as the world’s third-largest airline marks the second anniversary of its direct service to Christchurch from Guangzhou.
The airline flies five days a week to China, which increases to seven days over Chinese New Year holiday period, and has carried more than 120,000 passengers between the two cities in the past two years.
“This includes more than 30,000 Chinese visitors, each of whom spent on average $3,000 dollars during their stay,” said Justin Watson, Christchurch Airport chief aeronautical and commercial officer.
“In addition, China Southern’s strong network and connections to Asia and Europe makes the ‘Canton route’ service highly appealing, with more than a third of passengers originating from outside of China.”
Christchurch is New Zealand’s fastest growing entry point for Chinese visitors and China Southern Airlines’ share of those visitors has increased from 34% to 60%, said Watson.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said: “Visitors arriving here appreciate Christchurch’s gateway position giving them access to the big blue skies, wide open green spaces, rivers, lakes, mountains, glaciers and famed southern hospitality they have heard so much about and want to experience for themselves.”
To commemorate the second anniversary of the China Southern Airlines, Christchurch Airport has commissioned a new themed airbridge, featuring the Dark Sky Reserve in the Mackenzie Country and the airline’s partnership with University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory.