A perception overseas that New Zealand is unsafe to visit after last month’s deadly Christchurch earthquake, which struck in the peak visitor season, is worrying tourism operators.
Governments have issued advisories against unnecessary travel to Christchurch, one of the country’s main tourism hubs, while the city grapples with a cordoned off central business district, disruption to basic services such as roading and water, and the deaths of at least 166 people.
President of the Inbound Tourism Operators Council Brian Henderson, also chief executive of Auckland-based Tourmasters South Pacific, said the impact of the February 22 quake on his business was hard to quantify, but bookings had definitely been down.
Clients were mainly from Western Europe, North America and Australia.
“Certainly there’s been drop-off out of the Japanese market in particular, there’s certainly been cancellations from there.”
Tourism numbers were already down because of the stronger New Zealand dollar, competition from other markets and the effects of the financial crisis, which made it hard to pinpoint the effects on tourism from the quake.
“The tourism industry’s being whacked from a number of quarters, which I think for the Government particularly at the moment, considering it’s one of our economy’s main drivers, should be a real concern,” Mr Henderson said.
It was definitely worrying that people thought the whole country was affected by the earthquake.
“That’s certainly a message I’m sure Tourism New Zealand etc are starting to work on, that people are understanding the rest of the country’s still open and you can still visit Rotorua and Queenstown without going through Christchurch,” Mr Henderson said.
“People can still get into and out of the country without being affected by it and travel here quite safely, that’s the message we need to get out there.”
The quake happened during the height of the tourism season.
“February-March is pretty much peak, so that is really hitting everyone, particularly the Canterbury operators, I really feel for some of the guys down there,” he said.
“They’ve lost a huge amount of their peak season revenue, which will make it hard for them to get through the winter.
“It’s going to affect the shoulder season bookings and winter bookings sure, but the cancellations during peak season when everyone was trying to make a buck is really going to hurt.”
Christchurch Airport is open, and the TranzAlpine train service will begin running between Christchurch and Greymouth from tomorrow.
The TranzAlpine, and TranzCoastal between Christchurch and Picton, were suspended to focus on moving supplies to Christchurch on KiwiRail’s freight operations.
The Christchurch passenger railway station was undamaged in the earthquake.
“It sends a clear signal that, while Christchurch city centre has been affected, the rest of New Zealand still has stunning scenery and is very much open for tourism business,” said KiwiRail rail passenger general manager Deborah Hume.
The TranzCoastal will still be replaced by a coach while KiwiRail gauges demand for the TranzAlpine.