'Over the top' Aussies liken Chch to Iran

RACHEL YOUNG AND ANNA TURNER
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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What do East Timor, Rwanda, Iran, Gabon, Christchurch and Lyttelton have in common?

They are all places, the Australian Government says, where travellers should "exercise a high degree of caution".

In the rest of New Zealand, Australians are told to "exercise normal safety precautions".

The smartraveller.gov.au website, run by the Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, warned Australians visiting Christchurch and Lyttelton to "exercise a high degree of caution because of the damage to buildings, public infrastructure and essential services caused by the series of earthquakes affecting the area".

"Aftershocks are continuing and may further damage infrastructure such as roads, bridges and power and water supply," it said.

Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter called the travel warning "unfairly alarmist" and "over the top".

"It's very unreasonable as Christchurch is at a place in its recovery now where people can visit safely," he said.

"Look at December last year – there were aftershocks but there was no significant damage or injury.

"Any building which is susceptible to earthquakes has been cordoned off. There is no undue risk to tourists."

The Christchurch tourism industry was missing out because of the warning.

"I think it will be putting people off coming here and it's unfair," he said.

"The number of Australian visitors coming through Christchurch Airport for a holiday dropped 44 per cent for the first quarter of 2012 compared to 2010.

"The Australians have definitely stayed away the longest of international visitors, and having an official travel warning is very unhelpful."

Hunter said his organisation had been working with the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry to have the warning removed.

The travel warning contrasts with recommendations given by travel bible Lonely Planet, which recently labelled Christchurch as one of the most exciting cities in New Zealand.

Author Brett Atkinson said researchers had visited three times since the February 2011 quake and were impressed by what they saw.

"If you're heading to the South Island of New Zealand, definitely spend a few days in the city. You'll be supporting the new businesses inspiring Christchurch's renaissance," he said.

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- The Press

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