Hotel chain boss backs road plan

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 10:54 15/02/2013

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The boss of the nation's biggest chain hotel has weighed in on the Haast-Hollyford road debate, saying the road would boost visitor numbers, and forecasts it would turn Te Anau into a "ghost town" are wrong.

The proposed $220 million privately backed Haast-Hollyford toll road is currently in a jurisdictional grey zone, where the Westland District Council - owner of the holding company seeking to build the road - claims the land earmarked for the road to be built on is not under Ministry of Conservation control.

However the ministry will not look at the jurisdiction of the land until the holding company formally approaches them.

Whether the Southland District Council, which controls part of the land, will support the move remains to be seen.

Speaking at a Tuesday Southland District Council meeting, Distinction Hotels chain owner Geoff Thompson said the road would turn Te Anau into a "ghost town".

However, Earl Hagaman, a rich-lister with an estimated personal wealth of $150 million and founder of Scenic Hotel Group, in a direct response to Mr Thompson, yesterday told The Southland Times the road, if it eventuated, would significantly boost interest and accessibility in the West Coast, resulting in the road becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.

"I've always said the West Coast highway is one of the most spectacular and scenic drives in the world. A link with Milford through our incredible wilderness would lift it to iconic status, unmatched anywhere," he said.

"The fear that it would rush tourists through the region and take business away from local hoteliers and tourism operators is completely unfounded. Most travellers are exhausted by the one-day round trip from Queenstown to Milford and back again. A through road to the West Coast would provide the opportunity for visitors to slow down and actually get a decent look at this slice of paradise - and they'll fall in love with it, just the way I did."

Scenic Circle has 15 properties across New Zealand, recently expanded into the South Pacific, and has a number of West Coast holdings. These include the 100-room, $24 million Te Waonui Forest Retreat at Franz Josef - the West Coast's first five-star hotel which was opened in 2009.

Hotel designers took care to preserve much of the natural forest around the hotel, giving the impression it is hidden in the bush to emphasise its eco-friendliness.

Scenic Circle also owns another Franz Joseph hotel, two at nearby Fox Glacier and the Heartland World Heritage Hotel in Haast.

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- The Southland Times

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