Jon Mitchell: A strategy for managed tourism growth

Sep 19, 2022

Queenstown Lakes District mayoral hopeful Jon Mitchell's penned a piece on his vision for managing visitor growth in the district. With voting papers now in the hands of residents and ratepayers, Crux is inviting those standing for election to get in touch if they've got something to say.


To paraphrase Bill Durham: “If we build fewer beds then fewer visitors will come”.

My vision is for a transformed tourism sector that relies more on locally resident talent and less on visiting workers, in an increasingly thriving, sustainable, resilient, and diverse economy. Keeping in mind that international workers, as my parents once were, bring more than economic benefits, they also add to the culture and vibrancy of the district. It’s about balance.

The projected 100 percent increase in visitor numbers over the next ten years is not only unsustainable, but is also impossible for our communities, environment, and economy to absorb.

This graphic from council’s current Annual Plan assumes visitor numbers will more than double this decade. It shows visitors becoming a greater proportion of the population, crowding out residents and exacerbating existing issues of needing a low-paid itinerant foreign workforce, housing affordability, and an ever-decreasing proportion of ratepayers burdened with funding the district’s infrastructure.

  • We must avoid a return to unsustainable pre-Covid mass-tourism growth rates, to make room for innovative new diverse commercial and social enterprise – including food innovation, low-energy construction, remote working, efficient public transport, and arts and culture.
  • Immediately review the assumptions and intent of the district plan, spatial plan, and council long-term plan, to include and enable sustainable, managed, low-growth targets.
  • Modify the objectives and rules of the district plan to limit future visitor accommodation growth:
    • limit hotel development to a sustainable rate of growth
    • encourage a transition to residential use of homes and apartments
    • transition away from the dominance of AirBnB style uses in residential areas.
  • Encourage replacement of older, less-safe, visitor accommodation through rating policies.
  • Modify differential rating to seriously encourage residential use of residential properties.
  • Smooth demand across the year – encouraging events and conferences in shoulder seasons.
  • Develop the Stanley Street site for a multi-use performing arts and conference precinct:
    • Bring together a public-private joint-venture to re-design and fund the project
    • Modify the arterials project to enable larger public transport now, not later
    • Develop additional flexible parking as we transition to effective public transport
    • Retain and enhance the Memorial Centre.
  • Actively encourage longer-stay tourism, reducing congestion and long-haul CO2 generation.
  • Lead the transition to reliable, on-demand e-transport for tourist and resident travel needs.
  • Review and, if possible, renegotiate or restart the Lakeview Taumata project.
  • Constructively influence the government to introduce fit-for-purpose immigration settings.
  • Enable a thriving local tertiary education sector and the seasonal workforce it will bring.
  • Develop regional partnership approaches to regenerative tourism and workforce planning.
  • Provide for and protect our social, cultural, natural, and economic environment to continue to attract and welcome new workers, entrepreneurs, and enterprises at a pace that we and our environment can accommodate.   
  • Reduce the worker housing crisis through a public-private housing task force, with government support, to provide immediate temporary and longer-term solutions.
  • We do not need an expensive economic development agency. We need to manage growth.

Not one of these will solve our over-tourism crisis alone, but all of them together will make a real difference. What it will take to make this happen is experienced, collaborative, trusted leadership – drawing on amazing commercial and community leadership from across the district.

No other candidate has the strong working relationships with the ministers of tourism, local government, environment, and finance, or with the Prime Minister, that I bring to the role. We need to be taken seriously by building relationships, and have the hard conversations in constructive ways, bringing central government on-board as more of a partner.  

We need to stop the doom and gloom on national media, which only damages our reputation and brand, and maintain a consistently positive approach.

Meanwhile, I will build on my existing strong relationships with opposition MPs, to ensure our voice is heard across parliament and to prepare for any future change in government.

I will hit the ground running to give the district a stronger and more listened-to voice in Wellington. 

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