Queenstown Lakes tourism bodies say 'no' to airport at Tarras

by Lauren Pattemore - Sep 01, 2023

Fresh off the release of first concept plans for an international airport at Tarras, Queenstown Lakes tourism organisations have joined voices speaking out against the proposal.

Christchurch Airport says its proposed airport on land purchased in the rural Central Otago township could serve 3.6 million passengers a year if it were to operate 24 hours.

A preferred runway detailed in a new report made public on Tuesday aligns with the Lindis Valley and Lake Dunstan, and is between 2,200 and 2,600 metres long. 

Concept drawings of a proposed runway and terminal building in Tarras, released earlier in the week by Christchurch Airport.

However, rather than celebrating the news of masses of potential new punters, two local industry bodies are less than enthusiastic about the proposal.

In a joint media release today (Friday, September 1), Destination Queenstown and Lake Wānaka Tourism say they share the "over-tourism" concerns felt by many in the community.

“An increase in numbers on that scale would put more pressure on the already stretched visitor infrastructure in Queenstown and Wānaka,” the press release says.

It is the view of the two regional tourism bodies the planned airport in Tarras has the potential to majorly impact Queenstown Lakes and is not aligned with the “quality over quantity approach” endorsed by the community in its destination management plan.

The two organisations shared concerns any airport will bring even more visitors to the area, going against the wishes of locals - the Queenstown Lakes District Council's most recent Quality of Life Survey shows residents do not support significant growth in visitor numbers.

“The demand for travel to the Southern Lakes region around the world is large. If we enable more capacity, more visitors will come.”

The organisations believe the airport would drive visitor numbers to the region “on a scale never seen before”, as a result of the airport’s proposal to enable wide-body jets capable of long-haul flights.

However, in its tranche of documents, the Christchurch Airport says there is not enough airport capacity in the South Island, with projections showing demand for air connections for the Central Otago region, including Queenstown and Wānaka, would be at 6.8 million passengers by 2050.

But there are fears from the tourism bodies its townships would “bear the burden” of increased pressures on its infrastructure the extra visitors would bring, while any profits from the new airport would go out of the region, with the Christchurch City Council owning 75 percent of Christchurch Airport, which is behind the Tarras take-over. 

Queenstown Airport is currently finalising its own plan for growth, which is focused on accommodating for a "modest" 3.2 percent compounded annual growth over the next decade, to 3.2 million passengers a year by 2023.

Destination Queenstown and Lake Wānaka Tourism reject the claims made in the Tarras proposal that this level of investment in Queenstown Airport will lead to congestion and inefficient travel plans for the region moving forward.

Instead, the organisations believe that adjusting visitor volume and where visitors are travelling from are “two levers of change” that can support decarbonisation and regenerative tourism.

Part of the goals of these organisations are to target high-contributing visitors into the region, who want to stay in the area for a longer period of time.

Read more:

Community gets first glimpse of Tarras Airport plans

Queenstown Airport says community backs $350m expansion

Anti-airport academics ramp up fight against Tarras

Local tourism's bold aim: Carbon zero by 2030

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