© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

The shaking recovery of Christchurch tourism

Lauren Jones

Six years on from the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, is our tourism industry reaching its potential?

It was 12.51 pm on Tuesday the 22nd of February 2011 when it hit. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake changed Christchurch forever. The first priority, to rebuild people’s homes and mourn the 185 people killed in the quakes array of destruction.

Christchurch, known all over the world as the garden city and gateway to New Zealand’s beautiful South Island, had been for the most part, destroyed. The weeks and months after the quakes were focused on repairing local’s lives and rebuilding or replacing the nearly 8000 homes that were red zoned.

The quakes not only destroyed people’s lives but business, of all kinds in Christchurch took a massive hit. Six years on and the rebuild is now focusing on the repair of Christchurch’s main industries, tourism being one of them. 

In October 2016 tourism overtook dairy as New Zealand’s top export earner. For the year ending March 2016 total tourism expenditure was $34.7 billion generating a direct contribution to the GDP of $12.9 billion.

Christchurch Airport is the country’s second biggest international airport behind Auckland.

On average from 2007-2010 Christchurch airport was getting around 1/3rd of the international visitors that Auckland was receiving. In the years following the quakes 2012-2015 that number dropped on average to around 1/5th


Six years on from the devastating February 2011 earthquake I spoke to Vic Allen, current head of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.

We discussed the state of Christchurch’s tourism industry and whether he thinks Christchurch will be ready for New Zealand’s expected tourism boom. 

In the years after the quakes visitor spend in Canterbury took a significant hit in most categories. Accommodation services taking a significant loss from 2011 to 2014 only just regaining pre-quake level numbers in 2015.  

As of May 2017 the number of beds in Canterbury was at just 74 per cent of the pre-quake level. However, in speaking to accommodation providers it's clear that re-opening wasn’t so easy.

A prime example of the lengthy process many accommodation providers had to go through is the Crowne Plaza. The Crowne Plaza brand decided to return to the city six years after the quakes, opening recently on June 30th.

Vic Allen believes that with the central city re-build well underway, the opening of the 204 rooms is very timely.

On the other hand, even the hotels that could open relatively quickly after the quakes have been challenged. The stigma around the state and safety of Christchurch means visitor numbers are especially low and have only begun to increase to pre-quake levels in the past two years. 

It seems even now some are struggling to stay afloat. Whilst the goal is to get both tourist numbers and bed numbers back to pre-quake levels, local accommodation providers are sceptical about the balance between beds and occupancy numbers. 

Political Views

Labour’s tourism spokesperson Kris Faafoi echoes the opinion of the New City Hotel manager. Kris feels that if Christchurch doesn’t take bold chances with “big ticket items” we will miss out on crucial opportunities to attract more tourists and inject more revenue into Christchurch’s economy.

He suggests some of these items could be a convention centre and a stadium. “Now if more tourists come through we will need to make sure that projects like the convention centre and a stadium go ahead, we will need to make sure that we have enough beds to hold the number of people.”

This has been made clear most recently with Ed Sheeran’s decision to host his South Island concert in Dunedin. Previously the singer has chosen Christchurch as his concert destination in the South Island. Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin can hold 36,000 people as a concert venue, compared to Horncastle Arena’s 7,000.

Despite this in a statement, associate tourism minister for the National Party Nicky Wagner, seems positive about the industry “…despite greater Christchurch’s ongoing tourism challenges, the area is very much on the map and heading in the right direction. As a community, we can do our part by helping domestic and international visitors see Christchurch the way we do — not as a broken place, but a city of opportunity.”

It seems both parties agree that Christchurch has endless potential to re-create itself and implement infrastructure that will attract both the domestic and international tourism markets.

Kris Faafoi did however, show some concern as to whether Christchurch will have taken advantage of these opportunities in time for the tourism boom. “If you look at it now I think it's going to struggle [with the expected boom of 5 million international tourists yearly by 2023]. But I’m relatively confident that if any future government takes the steps towards making sure that they can attract some investment into tourism and attract some funding, so that we can deal with some other infrastructural issues in tourism, to get local people trained up to work in the tourism market, then Christchurch should have what it needs to deal with that.”

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Looking Ahead

Looking ahead it’s onward and upward for the whole country's tourism industry. Christchurch is and will always be the hub of the South Island, the gateway to some of the worlds most beautiful and diverse scenery.

Now Christchurch sees around half a million international visitors yearly. In the next five years as New Zealand continues to grow as a world-renowned destination it's clear that number could sky rocket.

Whilst Vic Allen is confident Christchurch will be ready for the tourism boom come 2023, it’s clear Christchurch’s tourism sector has a lot of work to do.

Christchurch is much in need of attractions, such as repairing or rebuilding the central cathedral, a stadium to attract more domestic tourists for world class sporting matches and a convention centre to bring business and creative conventions back to Christchurch, the list goes on.

It’s fair to say Christchurch has its work cut out. It’s also clear that the time is now. For 6 years the focus has been on residents and their homes and lives. Now it is crucial to improve Christchurch for visitors and residents alike. We have to start thinking about the business side of things, starting with New Zealand’s biggest earner and one of our proudest assets, our tourism industry.