Visitors to Queenstown do not show up

By Guy Williams from

Queenstown businesses say Covid-19 scared Aucklanders off heading south and a hoped-for influx did not happen.

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Photo: 123RF

Hotel, accommodation and tourism operators say that while the area has never been a magnet for North Islanders during the summer holidays, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and fears of an instant lock appear to have discouraged many people from traveling far from home.

Around the Basin chief executive Steve Norton said his bike rental and tour business was down 12 months ago, when visitors felt more confident about the future.

Even those who had come were wary of booking activities in advance, Norton said.

“We were surprised at how slow it was. “

But a recent trip to Auckland to visit his family had made him realize how nervous people were.

“They’re all a little scared up there right now.”

St Moritz Queenstown Hotel General Manager Jo Finnigan said the resort was once occupied by Australian and Northern Hemisphere travelers at this time of year, while New Zealanders tended to visit visiting friends and family or going to the beach.

With no international visitors to town, the resort has remained “very quiet,” despite having had a peak in bookings for about a week around New Years Day, Finnigan said.

Erna Spijkerbosch, who owns or operates six holiday parks in Queenstown’s Lakes District, said the number of guests in Queenstown was down from the same time last year, as many believed the worst of the pandemic had passed.

Things were a bit busier at his holiday parks in Arrowtown and Wanaka, where “regulars” from Southland and Otago tended to congregate, Spijkerbosch said.

Co-owner of Halo Café in central Queenstown, Claire Gourlay, said the lack of North Islanders came as no surprise.

“We weren’t expecting to break records… people don’t want to travel too far.”

Gourlay, who has been part of the resort’s hotel scene for 25 years with her husband Bruce, said while they “were doing well,” the situation was gradually worsening for the area as the impact of the pandemic continued.

Pub on Wharf restaurant owner Chris Buckley said trading had been calmer than expected over the past week, but expected the numbers to rise in the next two weeks.

He hadn’t expected a flood of Aucklanders given the number of people stranded at the station after the instant August lockdown.

The possibility of travel restrictions being tightened again was playing in people’s minds, Buckley said.

In Wanaka, Big Fig Cafe co-owner Chrissie Lahood said trading was on par with 12 months ago.

Her hope that Aucklanders would come south in large numbers after the city’s lockdown was lifted this month had not materialized, but she expected trade to resume in the coming days.

Aucklanders Amir Beli and Jaberi Ebrahimi said they arrived in Queenstown on Christmas Day for a three-day stay and were in awe of the scenery and the range of tourist activities.

They had taken a day trip to Milford Sound and had taken a jet boat ride on Lake Wakatipu.

They had planned to visit the station this past winter, but had to postpone the trip due to the August closure, Ebrahimi said.

Manny Sidhu, from Hamilton, said he decided to visit Queenstown with his family in part because he expected it to be quieter than usual.

He was aware that the area was struggling without tourists and was happy that their visit was “good for local businesses”.

This story was first published on the Otago Daily Times website.

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