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ChristchurchNZ: Reactivating our visitor economy

9 Apr 2020  By Contributor

Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre was supposed to open in October

Loren Heaphy, general manager of destination and attraction at ChristchurchNZ, on the impacts of Covid-19, the city’s economic recovery package and the importance of togetherness in a crisis.

Loren Heaphy

2020 was supposed to be Christchurch’s year.  

The momentum was finally here, the infrastructure was almost all complete, and visitors – but more importantly – residents, saw the city as a place to explore, linger and play.  

Our retail and hospitality precincts were humming, and we were building up to some huge milestones including the opening of Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, a direct American Airlines flight service to LAX and of course hosting TRENZ this May. The sense of optimism for the future of our visitor economy was palpable. 

Needless to say, Covid-19 has hit the city hard. 

In the weeks since the Covid-19 lockdown began, we have received many queries asking how Christchurch has managed to get back on its feet as a destination, time and time again. But the answer is that Covid-19 is far different from any earthquake, fire or terrorist attack. Covid-19 is an unparalleled global challenge we must face together as a planet and a country, and not a discrete and sudden event like the many we have experienced in our city.  

In these extraordinary times, an extraordinary response is required, and we must now shift our focus to undertake something that Christchurch had to do three times in the last decade – the reactivation of our visitor economy. To do this we must be  compassionate, cautious and clear that first, we need to protect our community.  

As we end the second week of alert level 4, our focus has been on preparing a city-led Christchurch Economic Recovery Package with Christchurch City Council and its companies, supported by central government, to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our economy. The plan ensures support is both fast and effective in the long term.     

The package is divided into 4 workstreams, and ChristchurchNZ has pivoted to support each of these for the foreseeable future: 

  • Business Support: This work is primarily being carried out in the short term to support businesses suffering from the immediate economic fallout of Covid-19 and includes activity such as the Regional Business Partner Programme and Business Mentors.   
  • Infrastructure-led Recovery Programme: This work will primarily focus on identifying and prioritising infrastructure projects to support the economic recovery of Christchurch.   
  • Strategic Economic Development Programme: This work will ensure all recovery activity is aligned to an agreed long-term vision, and positions Christchurch to enter the recovery phase with confidence and in partnership with the private sector and central government.   
  • Community and Visitor Economy Activation Programme: This work will focus on stimulating economic growth when it is safe to do so.   

As lead on the Visitor Economy Activation Programme, my team are focusing on market analysis and situation planning – and attempting to align our destination marketing and tourism development activities with what we forecast will be the future for our industry.  

While crystal ball gazing is fraught with challenges, it is our view that long-haul visitors are unlikely to reach our shores for at least 6-8 months, and that our core activity must focus on a scenario-based approach alongside the Covid-19 Alert Levels.

For example, at alert level 4 we will not be undertaking any destination marketing, but at alert level 3 we might start targeting South Island residents with dream phase destination content to support them in deciding to explore their own backyard. However again, this activity must only follow public health guidelines, and be sensitive to the challenges our industry and our at-risk communities are facing. 

Some of the actions we’ll consider over the next 12 to 18 months include: 

  • Operator training and support webinars including product development in catering to the local and domestic market
  • Extensive local and domestic marketing, encouraging the community to explore their own region and Kiwis to check out their own country
  • Partnerships with New Zealand-based outbound travel agents, looking to redirect their clients’ cancelled international holidays to something closer to home
  • Targeting new visitor audiences such as multi-generational family groups, New Zealand-based corporates and staycation couples’ retreats
  • Development of more localised itineraries that require less planning and allow for safer, socially distant travel
  • Better utilising our own local industry contacts and networks – for example the 23 rental car companies that base themselves in Christchurch
  • Continued content creation and digital engagement with our offshore travel trade partners and New Zealand-based Inbound Tour Operators
  • If public health allows, reinstating our major events calendar to increase community wellbeing and drive domestic visitation 
  • Continued and proactive bidding for major and business events in the next 2-5 years
  • Continuing to develop a highly sophisticated destination website and creating compelling social media content to drive dream phase planning until potential customers can move to planning and booking

Working collaboratively with our partners in Canterbury, we also see it may be time to do things differently. We are looking to re-work our tourism partner programme and dive deeper into the value we are providing our core stakeholders. The new Covid-19 landscape will require a cohesive strategy from Canterbury in order to ensure the whole region rebounds strongly as a visitor destination.

The response will require a strong brand, clear target markets, a short-term plan around stimulating local and domestic markets, and a long-term plan to diversify markets to increase resilience and rebound strongly – while also looking to create a more sustainable and robust tourism industry within our central city. 

Christchurch is resilient. We’ve made Top 50 lists and global news for our spirit of love, compassion and strength. If there is one lesson we have learned that we can share with you all, it is that now is a time for togetherness. It is a time to innovate, to challenge the status quo, and for ChristchurchNZ to live up to our mission statement of Igniting Bold Ambition for Otautahi  Christchurch.

If you’re looking to liven up your backdrop with some great scenery, we’ve just launched these Zoom backgrounds that you can download for free here – just another way we can drop in some spectacular Canterbury imagery to brighten up your day.

Loren Heaphy,
General manager of destination and attraction at ChristchurchNZ


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