Christchurch a blueprint for tourism operators

Damaged church with scaffolding around it
The Christchurch recovery is a prime example for tourism operators in Australia.

Weather weary tourism operators and tourist destinations in Queensland can take a leaf from the Christchurch recovery book as they put a summer of cyclones, storms and flood behind them.

Two years after the earthquake that devastated New Zealand’s second-largest city, a long-term, forward-thinking approach to rebuilding tourism is paying slow but decisive dividends.

Normally hosted in Australia, the Council of Australasian Tourism Hospitality Education held its annual conference in Christchurch last month where the themes of recovery and resilience were to the forefront.

“This was the largest meeting held there since the earthquake. It is important economically but also boosts confidence. This was highly appreciated by the local tourism industry,” Professor Susanne Becken, from Griffith University’s Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management says.

Professor Becken is an expert in disaster management and tourism, and was one of the main organisers of the CAUTHE conference in Christchurch.

“In addition all 200 delegates attending have learned a great deal, and will act as ambassadors for Christchurch.

“Tourist numbers are still down but not as bad as after the earthquake when they were reduced by over 40%. They are now where they were about 10 years ago.”

New confidence

Professor Becken says that regenerating confidence and stimulating investment are vital to rebuilding a tourism destination in the wake of a natural disaster. A focused media strategy and being prepared to take it one step at a time are also key steps.

“You cannot start to market a place if you don’t have a product. This is crucial after a natural disaster. There may be a temptation to push on and get a city’s profile back on its feet, but without core infrastructure and suitable attractions in place, this kind of marketing could have a reverse effect. When tourist expectations are not met, negative word of mouth further undermines the destination.

“In the case of Christchurch they still have not really started to market the town. Instead they attempted to promote the South Island, encouraging visitors to fly in but then drive out of Christchurch.

“The reconstruction of the convention centre in Christchurch, due for completion in 2015 or 2016, will be a cornerstone that gives investors confidence and also stimulates more investment in accommodation. At present about half of the city’s accommodation stock has been destroyed.”

Conference delegates, including 100 tourism researchers from Australia, were taken to Christchurch CBD’s red zone to witness firsthand the extent of the destruction and the rebuild effort. Professor Becken says tourism operators must be prepared for a slow and steady rebuild in such circumstances.

“Take your time and don’t make quick decisions in the recovery. It is worth spending a bit of time on understanding how big the impact is, what it means and how best to recover.

“Having a disaster plan is important but when disaster strikes it is likely to be utter chaos and you have to make things up. Thoughtful innovation can lay the foundations for a successful future.

“Local creativity and grassroot initiatives are essential for making a place interesting and worth visiting again. The Lonely Planet has now named Christchurch as one of the top 10 places to visit and local initiatives have played their part in this.”