Local tourism developing shoots

16:00, Jan 27 2014

There are signs of green shoots in Canterbury's quake-hit tourism industry with smaller operators starting new businesses in and around Christchurch.

However, the sector's leaders say it is still a struggle for tourism businesses wanting to resettle in the central city, with frustration about the lack of progress on the convention centre precinct to be located northwest of Cathedral Square.

The smaller businesses setting up outside the city centre are also taking risks, given uncertainty around visitor numbers in the aftermath of the quakes.

Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said tour operators often had to adapt their products to suit the post-earthquake environment. However, many visitors did want to see what was happening in the central city rebuild.

There were challenges, particularly given the amount of demolition or repair needed. These properties included the BNZ and Post Office buildings at the south end of the square and the Government Life and Camelot buildings to the north.

"In terms of setting up new tourism businesses the central city is still really difficult."


Demolition had been halted on a couple of sites and there was also a lot of dust in the centre of the city, Hunter said.

"Without those sites clear it's really hard for investors to see there's a normalising environment they can go into. It appears there are years of work to do in there before they can run a normal business."

On the positive side there are attractions.

The reopened Thomas's Hotel on Hereford, offering 44 rooms, added much-welcome accommodation with other such endeavours around the city, Hunter said.

Another innovative accommodation provider is SiloStay at Little River on the road to Akaroa. There are nine accommodation units, including one made out of grain silo materials.

The accommodation has an "eco-friendly" slant, said marketing manager Chrissy Wright-Stow, who is working with her father-in-law, the property's owner Stuart Wright-Stow.

While the quakes had impacted the Christchurch tourism sector, Little River was sufficiently far away to market the silo accommodation to both international and domestic visitors, with bookings open for a March 1 launch.

Hassle-free Tours owner Mark Gilbert said the company had recently brought another open-top double-decker bus over from London to add to an existing fleet of three Routemaster double-deckers. The latest bus, built in 1988, was fitted with an all-weather television so passengers could see a vision of how Christchurch's city centre would one day look.

Total investment in the four double-decker buses had been about $600,000, Gilbert said.

Nicole Wiedemann has started a new "eco walks" business, using the Christchurch gondola as a start point then guiding walkers over Banks Peninsula and down to Lyttelton.

She said she provided German and English translations during the Bridle Path-based venture, which had been running about a month and was designed to bring tourists back into Christchurch.

"People from overseas basically just arrive in Christchurch and then drive off to other places. They really miss the beauty of this area."

Maja Moritz, originally from Germany, is the owner of the recently opened Sumner-based Aoturoa Photo Art Gallery.

Separately she planned to host tourists on half-day customised "photo tours" to learn the art of photography.

The Tourism Industry Association's Canterbury hotels sector chairman and general manager of The George hotel, Bruce Garrett, said it was exciting from a hotelier's perspective to see new tourism products being offered

"It helps bring people into the region so that's fantastic. Our members are certainly pretty happy with business levels over December and January."

Room occupancy was about 80 per cent to 90 per cent, similar to levels over the 2012-13 summer.