Rebound ahead for tourism industry

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 04/01/2014

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An extra 40,000 international visitors could visit Christchurch in 2014 but they may find the central city "dragging its tail" while the rest of the city rebuilds at pace, a leading business figure warns.

Housing is predicted to dominate construction this year although work is timed to start on several central city anchor projects. But there are concerns the sheer scale of the central city rebuild will take longer than many hope.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says 2014 will be a year when "people will have to be patient" because the sheer scale of the central business district rebuild means that "jigsaw" will take much longer.

But the region's leading tourist boss said the re-opening of more hotels, bars and restaurants and most of the city's "iconic" attractions pointed to a dramatically busier year ahead.

Canterbury and Christchurch Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said the city's "innovative spirit" was helping attract more visitors, with the Asian region becoming increasingly interested in the city.

There were five more hotels opened than this time last year, and an estimated six bars or restaurants re-opening every month, he said. That, the prospect of the Arts Centre re-opening and The Terrace entertainment venue taking shape would be drawcards this year, he said.

But Townsend said people needed to start understanding the new city would take time to rebuild And it would

look and function differently.

"People will have to be patient and there will be a lot of frustration. It certainly won't be the same city."

Many did not yet comprehend the "sheer scale" of the rebuild, especially in the central city and he called for more debate about what will happen and where.

"We don't want to see the central city done in bits and pieces. We don't want to see a hotch-potch fix . . . that will be messy."

Townsend wanted "more of an overall perspective" of what the new central city would look like.

This "framework of certainty" would help key investors decide quicker about returning to Christchurch, he said.

While 2013 was a year of "transition from deconstruction to the beginning of reconstruction," 2014 would be a year of unprecedented reconstruction.

Meanwhile, Canterbury was poised to match, if not exceed, the estimated 5 to 6 per cent growth in visitor numbers nationwide this year, Hunter said.

Huge interest in new and established Asian markets, more airlines flying to Christchurch more often and the strong return of accommodation, attractions and hospitality venues all helped Christchurch, he said.

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However, Hunter said there were fewer national and international sporting events to attract more guests.

Hopefully, that would change next year when the city hosted matches for World Cup Cricket and Fifa under-20 World Cup football.

Developing new accommodation - both at hotel and backpacker level - needed to be a priority this year.

"It's really important we get the message out there that the rebuild is a reality and there's a lot more facilities for visitors to go."

One encouraging sign for the tourism sector was the 26 per cent growth last year in international accommodation guest numbers. Compared to 2012, when international guest numbers barely rose 1 per cent, that increase was "a really good sign".

Hunter said "one of the silver linings" from the earthquake was how regional centres like Kaikoura, Tekapo and Akaroa had responded and were "doing very well".

- The Press

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