Hotelier issues ghost-town warning

Distinction Hotel chain owner Geoff Thompson has spoken against the proposed Haast-Hollyford road, claiming it will leave Te Anau a ghost town and affect other Southland tourist spots.

Mr Thompson, who owns a 112-room hotel in Te Anau, spoke during the public forum at a Southland District Council committee meeting yesterday. He said the Haast-Hollyford road would kill businesses in the town.

He believed if the road went ahead, Te Anau would share the fate of towns along Route 66 in the United States, which languished after authorities officially replaced the route with the Interstate Highway System in the 1980s.

"There's now tumbleweeds blowing down the street and towns the size of Gore with no-one in [them]."

He argued the new road would draw tourists and money from other areas, such as the Catlins and Southern Scenic Route.

The Westland District Council, through subsidiary firm Westland District Property, is planning the $220 million toll road to link Fiordland and Haast, shortening travel times by about five hours.

Mr Thompson said the road did not make economic sense. He questioned the tourist numbers put forward by the Westland council and whether the developers understood the tourism business.

In particular, he took issue with the idea that a faster route would speed up tourists, funnelling more people through the West Coast and Fiordland and bringing more money to the area.

"It's actually about slowing them down and trying to get more money out of their pockets . . . and giving them more things to do."

Cr Diane Ridley asked how much of Mr Thompson's Te Anau business was provided by coaches using the existing road, to which he replied about 80 per cent.

Speaking after the meeting, Westland District Property chairman Durham Havill said he did not accept Mr Thompson's ghost-town claims, and said he believed most of the town was behind the proposal.

"If you ask the folk in Te Anau, it will be a life-saver for them.

"Te Anau is not going to have tumbleweeds running down the road. It's going to a very busy main street."

The shorter route would allow tourists to explore more parts of the South Island, and so would benefit both Southland and the West Coast, he said.

The Southland Times