Queenstown is a resilient community and despite the massive challenges it faces in the wake of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic the resort will recover.
That is the view of Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult who says most of the people who live in the district choose to do so – “most of us weren’t born here but what drives us all is our passion for the place. Let’s remember nothing can take away from the sheer beauty of our area which means it will always be an attractive place to live and visit.”
He says dire unemployment predictions of 20 per cent unemployment will only be realised “if we do nothing. But we are not a do-nothing sort of community, we are a community that picks itself up and gets going”.
Key to the recovery in his view is the $85 million funding from the Government for “shovel ready” infrastructure projects which he describes as “a major shot in the arm”.
The grant includes $50 million for the first stage of the long talked about town centre arterial bypass and $35 million to upgrade the downtown commercial centre streetscape.
“These projects will help generate economic activity and create around 320 jobs. This is infrastructure we have been trying to get for years and we are delighted the Government has listened to our calls for help. The funding will help unlock other proposed infrastructure projects and while it is not a panacea for our problems it is a step in the right direction.”
In a bid to identify other opportunities the Queenstown Lakes District Council has set up a regenerative recovery task force, represented by a varied group of community members, to look at longer term recovery for the area.
“Our economy has been based primarily on tourism, with construction up there in second place. We have talked for a long time about diversifying the economy and Covid-19 is our sharp wake up call,” says Mr Boult. “Now is the time to tackle this and explore opportunities such as education, film and medical tourism. If our future is not solely based on tourism that is a good thing.”
The Government has also agreed to provide $25 million to waive Department of Conservation tourism concession fees which has wide implications for many Queenstown Lakes operators concerned about paying hefty concession bills on drastically reduced incomes in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
“This move has been welcomed by operators and will go a long way to help support their recovery,” says Mr Boult. “ Above all, we are very hopeful that a trans-Tasman bubble will get the go ahead this year which will be significant in saving both businesses and jobs in the near future.”