Warning skiers may bypass Chch

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2013

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Christchurch hotels are heading for the winter doldrums as tourism bosses warn skiers may bypass the city and head straight for Queenstown.

The lack of a convention centre, which could bring thousands of people to the city, was also hitting the sector hard.

Accommodation spots in the city usually experience a lull after the summer tourist high season, but two things could usually be counted on to boost hotel nights in the colder months - skiers and conventions.

Neither is expected to deliver this year the way they have in the past.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said the province had enjoyed a "pretty good" summer tourist season, with 120,000 extra visitors spending $11 million more than the year before.

However, plans by Air New Zealand and Virgin airlines to offer 30,000 more seats between Australia and Queenstown this winter meant many potential visitors would bypass Christchurch, he said.

"We've certainly got an issue there.

"We've been talking to the airlines, saying we had a good last quarter. It's about improving their confidence about coming back to Christchurch . . . and we've got a lot to do in Australia to get people back to Christchurch and the South Island."

Progress on Christchurch's proposed convention centre was also needed, Hunter said.

Christchurch once hosted about 18 per cent of the conventions held in New Zealand each year but now hosted only 4 per cent.

"For a lot of people thinking about building hotels in Christchurch, that's what they're waiting for."

Tourism Industry Association Canterbury chairman Bruce Garrett said Christchurch needed to move forward with plans for the new convention centre and stadium to help boost visitor numbers.

Other major rebuild projects, such as the $600m hospitals redevelopment, would also have a "spinoff" for the hotel industry, he said.

"We can't look at tourist-focused operations to better the numbers over the winter because it's hard to get big tourist numbers anywhere in New Zealand over winter unless you're a skifield."

All of the city's major hotels had seen a drop in guest numbers since summer, he said.

"There's nine major hotels open in Christchurch and, looking over the next 10 days, there's rooms available in every hotel, every day."

Ibis Christchurch manager Tim Dearsley said winter had "definitely struck" the hotel industry.

The 155-room hotel, which reopened in September last year, was currently averaging about 70 per cent occupancy.

"There are still the corporate travellers, it's just the tourists [numbers down]," Dearsley said.

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The Rendezvous Hotel reopened on May 1 with 34 rooms, and another 30 would become available this week. "We're selling the rooms we've got," general manager Brad Watts said. "There's been a couple of occasions when we've been full that we've had to turn people away."

The hotel hoped to have all of its 171 rooms ready by June, he said.

Mt Hutt Ski Area manager James McKenzie said sales had been strong ahead of the skifield's expected opening on June 15.

About 75 per cent of those who visited Mt Hutt were from New Zealand, but Australians made up a "reasonable" number.

- The Press

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