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Destination New Zealand

Tourism implications of the Christchurch earthquake

David Beirman, eTN  Feb 24, 2011

(eTN) - Last week Christchurch, despite the slight damage which had been incurred by the September 2010 earthquake, was the ideal English style city of the South Island of New Zealand. It's the main international gateway city for New Zealand’s South Island with many good hotels in the city center, charming restaurants on the banks of the Avon River, and a state-of-the-art conference and convention center.

I have visited Christchurch several times and enjoyed its easy-going “olde worlde” charm and atmosphere and marveled at the cathedral which dominates the center of a city, which is home to 350,000 people.

This week’s earthquake has caused immense damage to the center of the city and the harbor port town of Lyttleton, a mere 7 kilometers away, which was the epicenter of the quake.

The official death toll as I write, is 68, and 300 people are missing. Hundreds of Christchurch residents were injured by the quake, which occurred during the middle of a working day. Aftershocks have hampered rescue and relief efforts. At least one of the confirmed dead is an Australian citizen, and several of the missing are foreign nationals.

The earthquake destroyed the main cathedral, the central tourism tram service, and has made several key hotels and the city’s main youth hostel uninhabitable. The city center has been cordoned off to all except emergency workers. The main shopping street, Manchester St., has sustained considerable damage. New Zealand’s government has been offered unlimited rescue and relief support from Australia and rescue support from the USA, UK, and Taiwan among other countries.

Preliminary estimates of the material cost of the quake total NZ$16 billion (US$12 billion). The prime concern of tourism industry officials in New Zealand is the rescue of victims of the quake. As New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key said today, “Buildings and roads can be rebuilt, but people are irreplaceable.”

Tourism New Zealand is assessing the damage to Christchurch, but a message they are certain to relay to tourism stakeholders and international travelers will be Christchurch will need time to recover, but destination New Zealand remains open to welcome tourists. Tourists wanting to visit the spectacular glaciers, mountains, lakes, and fjords of New Zealand’s South Islands can fly to Dunedin (450 kilometers south of Christchurch), Queenstown, or Invercargil in the far south of the South Island on domestic flight services or on direct flights from Australia. Although Christchurch Airport sustained some damage, it continues to operate normally.

The North Island of New Zealand, which includes Auckland, the country’s largest city and its main international airline gateway point, and the capital Wellington were unaffected by the Christchurch earthquake.

David Beirman is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the University of Technology-Sydney.

Tourism implications of the Christchurch earthquake
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