Hitting The Hinterland
By Katie McKone
Christchurch’s hinterland is experiencing its own set of aftershocks resulting from the February 22 earthquake. The movement of people, goods and services has been felt in ebbs and flows throughout the South Island and beyond, testing infrastructure and industry.
With reportedly minimal damage sustained within the rural community, its immediate response has been on alleviating the effects for their urban counterparts.
The common view within the sector is that the wider economic impacts, both short and long term, will be relatively minor.
Federated Farmers vice-president Donald Aubrey says despite an initial run on fuel, the farming community came away relatively unscathed.
Lyttelton Port, the major trade gateway to the South Island, is open and therefore able to maintain the flow of goods and services.
All eyes are now on the rise and fall of input costs, with the Reserve Bank’s inevitable cut in the Official Cash Rate to 2.5 percent being a welcome move.
“The one aspect that we are going to be watching very closely is the continuing rise in fuel prices, and to some extent that is going to be offset by improved product prices,” says Aubrey. “My real concern would be if the two were to fall out of sync, but so far we seem to be hanging in there.”
Issues may also arise around servicing the industry in the short term, says Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) rural co-ordinator Terry Donaldson.
“Farmers have had their best season in decades so they are financially strong. There will be no significant impact on farming itself but there could be a slight disruption to some of the processing aspects.
“Then again I believe there is the capacity to transfer that stock to other centres.”
The Government had come to the party and addressed those issues that could have caused strife, adds Donaldson.
The earthquake struck at one of the most opportune periods for the tourism industry, as it revelled in the peak season period.
Now operators are pushing the message that although the centre of Christchurch remains off-limits, the rest of the country is very much open for business. With the Christchurch airport running as normal, the city can still act as a strategic and important gateway to other destinations in the South Island.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar says the main impact will be felt within the wider Canterbury region, largely due to a decrease in intra-regional traffic.
“Places such as Kaikoura for instance, as they do rely on the Christchurch market to do business. Some will be getting a little bit of a boost in the short term, probably to do with the immediate dislocation market.”
It is vitally important that Kiwi’s in particular venture out and experience some of their own hospitality. “The domestic market was flat before the earthquake and we have noticed that New Zealanders have a tendency to just hunker down. We rely very heavily on that domestic demand to build services; it is the engine room of the tourism economy.”
Remaining upbeat and optimistic will be a crucial element in the industry’s success, adds Cossar. “In reality we have got a very big tourism industry and it is simply too important to let go, too many livelihoods depend on it. If there was any a time to illustrate leadership, this is it.”
Residents fled Christchurch in droves immediately after the earthquake struck.
The regional centres subsequently reported a huge influx of people, with Timaru alone estimating some 9000 to have taken refuge in the town.
As the response begins to move out of disaster phase, various councils and organisations are now preparing their infrastructure for the future. South Canterbury’s Aoraki Development Business and Tourism (ADBT) recently held a “think tank” of business and community leaders to discuss medium and long term initiatives.
Chief executive Wendy Smith says Timaru is rapidly appearing as a “safe haven”, adding the town’s infrastructure was able to cope with a surge in development.
“We have ridden on the cloak tail of Christchurch, and the more businesses we can help the better.”
Ashburton mayor Angus McKay says as the initial dislocation period ends, the council is working towards mobilising resources.
A list of available floor space for potential commercial premises has been developed, along with added housing options.
“Rental accommodation has virtually gone, and there is also an increased interest in buying houses as people are realising that we are only 50 minutes from Hornby.”
Being the epicenter of South Island tourism, the infrastructure in Queenstown and Wanaka is adept at handling fluctuating numbers.
Queenstown Lakes mayor Vanessa van Uden says its Chamber of Commerce is investigating temporary business premises, yet the big question was how long people intended to stay in the region.
At the other end of the island, Nelson has gone so far as to host the Canterbury Crusaders for two Super 15 matches while AMI Stadium remains out of action.
Deputy mayor Ali Boswijk says a number of smaller business conferences originally destined for Christchurch have also been relocated to the city, and anticipated this to continue.