A year after being struck by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on February 22, 2011, Christchurch is poised to become one of the most exciting cities in Australasia.
Christchurch’s city centre was badly damaged and 185 people killed in last February’s quake, but the city’s residents have shown enormous fortitude, resilience and creativity over the past 12 months and now, everywhere you look, you see signs of a city rebuilding itself.
“It’s been a difficult journey and the challenges aren’t over yet but the creation of new bars, restaurants and entertaining spaces is giving the city a very strong recovery feel,” says Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter.
“Our resilience was acknowledged in January when Lonely Planet said Christchurch is re-emerging as one of New Zealand’s most exciting cities. And an influential global magazine, Foreign Policy has listed Christchurch in the top ten of global cities that will shape the next century.”
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker says innovative projects like the temporary shipping container shopping mall in the central city are testimony to Christchurch’s determination to get back on its feet and to move on.
“There is a sense of hope and optimism that Christchurch will emerge from this difficult period in its history as one of the most exciting cities in the world – a place where the environment is respected and modern technology embraced. We want Christchurch to be a leading city of the 21st century,” Parker says.
“It is going to take time, money and hard work for us to turn our vision into Christchurch into a reality, but we are taking steps forward all the time.”
Despite the damage wrought by the February 22 quake Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region have continued to play host to a steady stream of visitors. In the year ended September 2011, 47% of all visitors to New Zealand spent a night in Canterbury as part of their New Zealand stay – a drop of just 9% compared with the previous year.
Hunter says both Christchurch and the whole of the South Island are benefitting from an increase in the number of visitors from Singapore, Malaysia, India and China.
“We are seeing a marked increase in independent travellers from China and the Malaysian market is continuing to produce an abundance of self-drive travellers on long itineraries. Malaysian arrivals into Christchurch have exceeded 18,500 in the year ending December, up 430% on last year. Direct Air Asia X services to Christchurch since April 2011 have been a fantastic boost for tourism in the South Island,” Hunter says.
The arrival of 80 cruise ships over the summer into picturesque Akaroa Harbour has also helped buoy Canterbury’s tourism industry.
“We’re fortunate to have a huge array of tourism activities and experiences on offer across the region so although part of our city centre is out-of-action there is still plenty for our visitors to see and do during their stay with us,” Hunter says.
“Post-quake Christchurch is a very dynamic and vibrant place and keeping visitors informed of all that’s happening in the city is one of our biggest challenges because new attractions and activities are popping up all the time. We’ve just completed a project to improve visitor information in the central city in and around the cordon zone by installing large display maps and signage and we’ve printed thousands of new city guide maps and are putting tourism ambassadors on the streets to help visitors find what they are looking for.
“We’ve also launched a blog site called Pop Up City Christchurch http://popupcity.co.nz to keep visitors updated on what’s new in the city and to give them suggestions on places to drink, dine, party, and shop, as well as information about what events are on.”
A new i-SITE Visitor Centre has also been set up at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, next to Canterbury Museum, to provide visitors to the city with a one-stop shop for information and booking services.
Hunter says while hotel accommodation in Christchurch is still in short-supply, that situation should improve next month when the centrally located 171-room Rendezvous Hotel Christchurch re-opens.
“In September we expect to see the 155 room Ibis Hotel re-open in Hereford Street, followed by the Novotel at the end of 2012. Another four major hotel re-openings are slated for 2013. Construction is now underway on the all new Latimer Hotel.”
Next month also sees the return to Christchurch of the Ellerslie International Flower Show. It will be staged in Hagley Park pop-up events village, which last month hosted the hugely popular Stronger Christchurch World Buskers Festival.
“As a city we’ve lost a lot but we’ve also gained a lot – there’s a new energy, a new sense of creativity emerging that bodes wells for Christchurch’s future. Projects like the Re:Start shipping container mall have shown the world what can be done with determination and a little Kiwi ingenuity so Christchurch is definitely a destination to watch,” Hunter says.