Queenstown, New Zealand’s stellar tourist attraction, struggles as visitors stay away from Covid

Queenstown, New Zealand (CNN) – A stunning autumn morning in Queenstown, New Zealand, Trees with orange leaves border the peaceful Lake Wakatipu and the crowded mountains – a species known for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” – a tower in the distance.

It’s the perfect place for photography. But for now, there are very few tourists.

“We’re usually calm in the winter,” says Betty Perkins, the owner of the million-dollar vessel, who has been touring Queenstown Lake for 13 years. “But not this quietly.”

There are no active ones now coronavirus cases in New Zealand, a country of five million people. But borders remain closed, and there is still no firm date for the long-awaited trans-Tasman bubble, which would open up trips with neighbors Australia.

It’s the left of Queenstown – usually one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions – that struggles.

According to Queenstown NZ, the organization responsible for marketing the area, about 55% of the city’s GDP comes from tourism, and government statistics show that the Queenstown-Lakes district has one of the highest GDP in the country.
But the coronavirus pandemic has changed that. Some cafes and souvenir shops around the lake are closed. Ski operators, which usually open in early June, have postponed the start of the season. Key attractions like the Shotover Jet boat ride down the canyons have closed their doors until July.

The Nevis swing basement in New Zealand is perhaps just the most extreme ride in the world, catapulting people nearly 500 feet in just seconds.

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Personal toll

All this means that thousands are already out of work.

Queenstown Lake Lake Mayor Jim Boult estimates that about 7,000 people are currently unemployed, and about half of them are migrant workers. recent report predicts that the overall unemployment rate in Queenstown will increase from 1.1% in March this year, to 18.5% in March next year – twice the projected national unemployment rate.

That has taken the city from one of the richest in New Zealand to one of the poorest, Boult says.

“People are worried, really worried about their job, the ability to provide for the family, the ability to pay mortgages and rents,” the mayor says, adding that some people who lost their jobs were close to retirement.

“At the end of the day, almost every job in the district depends on some version of tourism.”

Perkins is one of the lucky ones – she owns her own business, and they have little staff and little electricity, which means they didn’t have to fire anyone. Still, she estimates that her operating income has dropped by 70% compared to normal.

“We’re just going to have to fight, we’re going to wait for Australia to come,” she says.

Air New Zealand has unveiled its new prototype sleeping pad. The “Economy Skynest” will consist of six complete sleeping pads in the economy cabin.

The situation is similar for Dong Wang, who operates a small dumpling cart on the edge of the lake. He is the only earner he earns for his family, but his earnings have dropped from about $ 200 ($ 130) a day to just $ 50.

“There’s nothing I can do,” says Wang, who comes from China but is a permanent resident of New Zealand. “It’s so hard to find a job. I just keep going.”

Others in Queenstown face an additional problem – they are not citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand, so they cannot receive unemployment benefits. Statistics show that 40% Queenstown residents on the last Overseas Birth Census, although it is not clear how many permanent residents there are.

A worker at a souvenir shop in Queenstown who arrived from China six months ago and who did not give her a name for fear of retaliation says she will soon be redundant. If he can’t find another job, he may have to return to China, she says.

Boult says: “The council provides vouchers for food, medical assistance, assistance with utility payments and even warm clothes, but believes the issue of unemployed migrant workers is a‘ humanitarian crisis in the making ’.

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Attracting tourists

For now, since New Zealand’s borders are closed to almost all foreigners, only people who are already in that country can visit it Queenstown.
In the past, New Zealanders have avoided Queenstown because there are so many international tourists. Now the city is trying to lure them there – Boult even did it bungy jump to mark the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the country in May.

Over the past holiday weekend, companies reported booms as people from across the country descended the city.

But, says Boult, companies “won’t survive” only on domestic travelers. He hopes the trans-Tasman bubble will be launched by July for the ski season, where Australians make up 30-40% of customers.

“This is really a creation or a rupture,” he says, adding that if there is no mix for trans Tasman by July, more companies will fail and more jobs will be lost.

Boult believes Queenstown may not return to its pre-Covid tourist levels in terms of arrivals, and is already considering ways the city can diversify, including whether it can switch to the education, film and medical tourism sectors.

Simon Milne, a professor of tourism at Auckland University of Technology, says all predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. But he says Queenstown – a place where so many economies are based on tourism – will be hit harder than many other parts of New Zealand.

For those who can still visit Queenstown, the current situation is not all bad.

Canadians Anna Wilhelmus and Kristy Caldwell visited Queenstown on Friday. Their headquarters are in Christchurz where they are halfway through a year of study abroad, but they decided to go down to explore the area.

“It’s kind of nice to have it all to myself,” Caldwell says.

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