Open letter to the Minister for Regional Economic Development, the PM and others

The following is a letter to the Hon Shane Jones and others, shortly after the funding announcement he made with regard to Invercargill Airport. It is produced in full here, with email addresses redacted.

22 July 2019

Dear Minister Jones,

Re:   Your Provincial Growth Fund Announcement

Your recent announcement that the Provincial Growth Fund would invest $1.7million in the Southland region, including $500,000 for Invercargill Airport makes sound economic sense. This is in stark contrast with the highly questionable economic premise for Queenstown Airport Corporation’s proposal to invest $300 – 400 million in expanding Wanaka Airport.

The Wanaka Stakeholder’s Group Incorporated with approx. 900 members (our membership has tripled in 30 days, and is growing rapidly) is concerned Queenstown Airport Corporation is looking at investing a huge sum of money to develop Wanaka Airport in order to handle jets and passenger movements overflowing from Queenstown.  Passenger movements are projected to increase from 2.3 million currently to a total of 6 million by 2035, and 7.1 million by 2045.

Wanaka is already one of the fastest growing towns in one of the fastest growing regions in New Zealand. It scarcely needs a second airport that will open the floodgates to “over tourism”, thereby threatening to kill the golden goose of New Zealand’s premier tourist region.

We believe it makes far better sense to share the load of tourism around the rest of the South Island. This is the stated policy of Tourism New Zealand. Their 2017 Four Year Strategy lists ‘regional dispersal’ as part of their top priority:  

Broaden our measure of value from near-term growth to long-term sustainability.

 ‘Tourism New Zealand’s current approach to increasing value focusses on encouraging tourists to spend more and stay longer. With rapid growth placing pressure on core regions, this priority redefines this approach to drive shoulder arrival growth and regional dispersal.’

Tourism Industry Aotearoa has set similar goals as part of its Tourism 2025 and Beyond strategy.

‘All of New Zealand needs to be covered by Regional Destination Management Plans.’

AND

‘This brand and subsequent investment in targeted marketing across a portfolio of markets is needed to grow and shape demand in ways that benefits New Zealand and encourages regional and seasonal dispersal.’

Invercargill and Dunedin are crying out for more visitors and the opportunity to share in the benefits of tourism. Both already have jet capable airports that with a far more modest investment could handle additional flights and passenger traffic.

As evidenced in Air New Zealand’s current promotion of the Top 10 things to do in Invercargill and Southland, there’s more to the South Island than just Queenstown. https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/destination-invercargill-top-10-things-to-do

Clearly, Air New Zealand sees the opportunity to introduce new flights into Invercargill as a strategically located arrival point for visitors wanting to visit the South Island, travel to Stewart Island or go to Milford Sound, one of the region’s most popular destinations.

So why, we ask, is the Queenstown Airport Corporation, encouraged by QLDC its majority shareholder, flying in the face of national policy as expressed in your commitment to support existing regional airports, as well as by our two main Tourism bodies and by Air New Zealand?

Why is QAC so intent on spending a vast sum of money on developing an additional regional airport as a “dual airport” to Queenstown when there are other airports already available that would cost far less to develop and that would encourage visitors to see more of New Zealand?

Indeed, why is QLDC as majority shareholder pushing the dual airport business plan proposed by QAC, when they have sought permission from central government to introduce a visitor levy? They acknowledge they are financially unable to provide the infrastructure for the existing tourism numbers, let alone two to three times the current number of visitors that are projected within 16 years

Not only that, but why is Queenstown Airport Corporation ignoring the weaknesses spelt out in a report commissioned by QAC from Arup Australia?  The 2017 Arup Siting Study report noted that developing Wanaka Airport as a dual airport with Queenstown has the following weaknesses, listed on Page 10:  

Weaknesses

·       Significant infrastructure investment required to duplicate facilities;

·       Dual airport operations less efficient

None of this makes sense, unless of course you happen to be Auckland International Airport Ltd, with a 24.99% stake in QAC and you’ve been granted a 100-year lease on Wanaka Airport. The terms of the lease are not disclosed to the residents and ratepayers, despite being requested.

From Auckland Airport’s perspective, it makes perfect sense to secure traffic through an airport you own and control (Wanaka) rather than ones you don’t (Invercargill or Dunedin).

 The Wanaka Stakeholder’s Group Inc. with the support of our local Community and Residents Associations has raised concerns about why the dual airport plan is being pursued, because of the threat it would pose to increasing ‘over tourism’ in our region and consequently the negative impact on the quality of life in our communities. So far our questions and concerns raised with the QLDC have fallen on deaf ears.

Ultimately, we believe it makes no financial or strategic tourism policy sense, to develop a jet capable airport in Wanaka, at a cost of $300-400 million, to service the southern lakes region of the South Island. It is already a tourism hotspot (see CNN Travel which earlier this month listed Queenstown amongst the world’s destinations battling ‘over tourism’  – https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/how-to-stop-overtourism/index.html 

There are perfectly good jet capable airports already in Invercargill and Dunedin. New Zealand should use them.

We thank you for your time and consideration of this issue.  It is of major national and regional significance. Tourism is our biggest income earner.  We cannot afford to get these decisions wrong.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Ross

Chairman, Wanaka Stakeholders Group

Web www.protectwanaka.nz

cc:

  • Rt Hon, the Prime Minster
  • Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister for Tourism
  • Hon David Parker, Minister for the Environment
  • Stephen England-Hall, Chief Executive, Tourism New Zealand
  • Chris Roberts, Chief Executive TIA
  • Christopher Luxon, Chief Executive, Air New Zealand
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