Queenstown – the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world – has always thought of itself as a global destination. But it really didn’t feel that way. Just a lot of Aussies and few foreign strays.
How things have changed.
Now the winter streets are full of people from around the world, tucking into Fergburgers on Shotover Street, riding the chairlifts of The Remarkables or drinking the fine wines of Central Otago.
The buzz has returned to Queenstown, dramatically located on Lake Wakatipu, after a few flat years where there were plenty of empty hotel rooms and rates actually fell due to lack of demand.
“Queenstown has really grown up – it’s a very cosmopolitan town now,” says Mark Rose, General Manager of the Rees Hotel.
“Everyone is very buoyant.”
Money is flowing through the destination as strong visitor numbers and a wealthier, more sophisticated clientele stimulate trade. Australians still dominate but the visitor mix is diversifying.
Record flight numbers at Queenstown Airport – recently voted the world’s most scenic landing – have driven a 61% rise in overseas passenger numbers over the past two years.
They’re up from 121,000 in the 12 months April, 2013, to 195,000 for the year to April, 2015.
Impressive, right? But there’s just one catch – all of Queenstown’s international flights originate from Australia’s east coast. There isn’t a single flight from any other country.
So with that in mind, the airport/immigration stats reveal that the international visitors break down as follows:
- 69% Aussie
- 5.3% Americans
- 2.7% UK citizens
- 2.3% Chinese
- 1.3% Indian
- 1.19% from Singapore.
China is the fastest-growing followed by Singapore, India, Japan and Germany.
At The Rees, Mr Rose says international business is propelling the upmarket lakefront property to a record winter, while its signature restaurant True South has been doing great business.
In a revealing anecdote on Queenstown’s new visitor profile, he says one family of Singaporeans recently spent $35,000 to $36,000 on dinner one night – $33,000 of that on some very expensive wine.
“That high-end market has really exploded,” says Mr Rose.
Another big change this year is that there’s been no shoulder season, the tourists just keep arriving.
It’s a common refrain among locals and the stats back it up.
David Hamblin, senior director of market management, Asia Pacific, for the Expedia group, says its Queenstown hotel bookings grew almost 75% year-on-year during the second quarter, normally a slower period
“Expedia has experienced good growth from the traditional markets of Australia, US and UK but we’re also seeing strong growth from Asia – these travellers are staying longer and booking further in advance.
“International travellers are also more likely to spend more on their room, often booking a better room category than a domestic traveller.”
In fact, New Zealanders are the tightest of Queenstown’s tourists.
“Americans paid the most for a Queenstown hotel room in Q2, at $222 per night on average. Australians paid the second highest at $211 per night. Kiwis paid just $177 per night,” he says.
Accor’s Director of Revenue for New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia, Andrew Hodges, says 2015 has been a great year so far for its four Queenstown properties trading under the Sofitel, Mercure, M Gallery and Novotel brands.
He says rates this year are up 10% while occupancy has increased 6.8%, leading to REVpar growth of 17.8% – a very good result after a several slow years.
“In 2014 it started to improve and in 2015 it’s really improved a lot.”
Will that improvement continue?
There’s every chance it will.
“We have experienced growth in occupancy and room rate in every year since we opened and I expect this to continue for the next four years,” Mark Rose at The Rees says.
Andrew Hodges from Accor is also optimistic – and it’s easy to see why on a clear winter’s day with the sun shining on Lake Wakatipu.