Crunch time for Destination Queenstown

by Peter Newport - Feb 27, 2019

Last year Destination Queenstown (DQ) was on the receiving end of a surprise vote by its members to block an increase in funding.

In a way it brought the local tourism and marketing agency to something of halt - questioning their relationship with the commercial tourism operators and also their role in managing Queenstown as a destination.

In a few weeks they will go back to the tourism operators, asking again for more money. The soul searching is over, changes have been made and they are ready to have another go.

DQ is pulling out all the stops to get the message out that they are on the right track and provide value for money. All of this at a time when the community is debating issues around over-tourism and who should pay for the stretched infrastructure that is necessary to keep Queenstown, and tourism, operating. The debate was thrown into sharp relief last year when the community, when asked about airport expansion, said "no more growth."

In a briefing with Crux today the DQ Chairman, Matt Hollyer, and Chief Executive, Graham Budd, explained their future plans and how these would be presented to commercial operators in a bid to get what they say is an overdue and important funding increase.

The key point to come out of this briefing was that Queenstown's pipeline of tourists is more fragile than many of us realise. Supporting this position is the fact that 70% of tourists who travel to Queenstown are first time visitors.

It makes sense that if Queenstown stopped marketing itself to the rest of New Zealand and the world, the visitors would soon stop coming as only 30% of the current tourist traffic is repeat business.  

Some community sceptics might say that fewer tourists would be a good thing, but the industry does support of a lot of employment in town and even though the trickle down benefits are not as great as many of us would like, they do exist. Either way, DQ is paid to do a job by its members and that job is to market Queenstown and bring people here.

In revised strategies that will be presented to the commercial tourism operators, DQ has a clear plan for the next three years, that do address questions around volume vs. quality, and value vs quantity.

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DQ's key objectives for the next three years.

The goals also make it clear that domestic and Australian visitors are a much better prospect for targeting than long haul tourists. 

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Who's in favour, and who is not.

The targeting of domestic and Australian visitors is at odds with what many residents see as a large number of long haul passengers who can sometimes struggle with our roads, local mannerisms and culture. Jet lag from long flights would obviously come into this equation. The DQ business case makes it clear that the more local tourists (domestic and Australia) are more likely to come back and stay longer, therefore becoming a better strategic target than other categories of tourist who are likely to only come here once and maybe only stay a few nights.

The mantra from DQ, and from Mayor Jim Boult, is that Queenstown tourism is not a numbers game. In other words it is not about just getting as many people here as possible. Listening to DQ today that does seem an authentic goal that is reflected in their three year forecast that shows more value from relatively lower tourist volumes.

It's also clear that the views of the community have been heard loud and clear. Sustainability and over-tourism are real and present issues that DQ is acutely aware of.

The hope now will be that DQ's members are convinced and will vote in a few weeks time to vote for a budget increase of $900,000 that will take DQ's annual budget up from $3.6 million to $4.5 million. The money will go on market research, the Winter Festival and increased marketing to the domestic and Australian markets.

Watch: DQ Chief Executive Graham Budd discusses with Crux his view of over-tourism, infrastructure funding and DQ's relationship with the community.

DQ Chief Executive Graham Budd speaks with Crux today.

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