Christchurch missing out on tourism

When the earthquakes hit, there was a mass exodus from Christchurch. Tens of thousands of people upped stakes and left. Some went for good. Some were going to go until the aftershocks calmed down and others were leaving simply because they were made homeless. Among these quake refugees, there were also scores of panicked tourists who had come face to face with the ugly side of plate tectonics, from all over the world who wanted to get away from the aftershocks, the destruction.

In the first several months admittedly Christchurch was a very grim city. Rocked by ongoing aftershocks, its C.B.D. cordoned off and large tracts of the east rendered uninhabitable, there was very little to entice visitors back. But that was five years ago now. The C.B.D. is reopened, the civilian red zone is for all intents and purposes gone and most major attractions are back in business. So, why are people not coming?

There are several reasons for tourists bypassing Christchurch:

  • The city’s rebuild has sent conflicting mesages to people around the world about our willingness to take tourists – major attractions such as the Arts Centre and the Cathedral are still cordoned off
  • Because of the slowing pace of the C.B.D. rebuild there is no four or five star hotels in the C.B.D. as potential investors do not yet see a market
  • The Port of Lyttelton cannot take cruise ships, which have to berth in Akaroa Harbour and boats come out to get visitors – cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour cannot enter when the weather is bad because there is nowhere for them to berth
  • Not all tourists are convinced it is safe to stay in the city because of the ongoing tremors

There has been considerable uncertainty about the direction that the city is heading in. On one hand the people of Christchurch were clear about wanting to use the rebuild as an opportunity to create an urban area that is environmentally friendly, relies less on cars and promotes community. On the other hand these had to be balanced with the expectations of the Government that if it contributed a substantial sum to the rebuild it would get matching influence in determining how it progresses. Some of the anchor projects are delayed indefinitely, such as a new convention centre to replace the old one in Kilmore Street, which was demolished in 2012.

Initially when the rebuild started there were opportunities popping up all over Christchurch for people to get jobs, especially as a tradesperson. There were excited investors who had visions of being able to put down new premises and develop new markets. Thousands of people have come over for the rebuild from many corners of the world. Unfortunately since then the New Zealand economy has slowed substantially. Political machinations are holding up key projects. The potential builders of four and five star hotels have indicated that there needs to be a convention centre confirmed or they will not have a market to cater for.

The Port of Lyttelton still wears some of the scars of 22 February 2011. Parts of the wharf where the logs are loaded, near the coal tip, still have substantial structural damage. This is causing problems because until the wharves can be fixed, large cruise ships are unable to dock, which means a significant source of tourism revenue is instead diverting to Akaroa. This is problematic because Akaroa has no place for them to berth and instead small craft have to come alongside and pick up tourists. And when a gale is blowing straight up the harbour from the south, the port is not accessible altogether. As these ships can disgorge hundreds of passengers a piece and each one spends a day in the city, the potential extra revenue is substantial.

And then, unfortunately, there are the faults themselves. Although many overseas nations are starting to tell their nationals it is okay to go back to Christchurch, some, remembering the devastation that was wrought, have decided it is simply too dangerous. In this particular case there is nothing one can really do other than promote the City of Christchurch at every opportunity, but it also implies that the wrong messages might be getting out.

The final potential cause is disputable, but for the record of the conversation it is worth noting that Air New Zealand has stopped flying long haul 777 aircraft in/out of the city, when two of the worlds biggest airlines – Emirates and Singapore – fly in/out daily. If the national carrier will not fly big planes in, one of the most Kiwi companies known to man is effectively saying it does not have total confidence in the city. Ouch!


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