AirBnB and a lack of tourism infrastructure are being blamed for Christchurch accommodation’s worst winter since the Canterbury earthquakes.
Operators, particularly at the budget end of the market, are feeling the pinch, with some of the city’s 120 motels report a 20 to 30 percent drop in business.
Hoteliers are also reporting a drop in occupancy, as Airbnb bookings escalate and hundreds of new hotel rooms open across across the city.
Bob Cringle, who represents the Christchurch motel sector for Hospitality New Zealand, said: “It’s getting harder each winter because we are getting less people in.
“We had the rebuild for a start but now those people have dried up, so it’s hard work and a lot of [motels] are right down this winter.”
Mr Cringle told Radio New Zealand Airbnb was partly responsible for the downturn. In the year to September 2017, around a fifth of all Christchurch’s visitor bookings were made through the short-let platform.
“They have the right to be here, but we just want a level playing field,” he said. “We’ve got compliance costs and zoning costs…and we pay commercial rates. Commercial rates are a lot more expensive than residential rates.”
A lack of tourism investment is another issue, with the only major event this year, the Golden Oldies sports gala, turning out to be more of a fosbery flop than a leg-up for motels.
The athletic challenge for over 35s was expected to bring 10,000 participants and about 4000 supporters and officials to the region, but instead attracted half the number of predicted competitors. In a survey of 100 Hospitality New Zealand member motels, only six reported having any guests stay for the event.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa hotel sector manager Sally Attfield told Accomnews the city’s hotels were struggling with a lack of demand this winter.
“April’s Golden Oldies provided a surge in visitors but there have been no major events over the winter months to attract visitors to the city,” she said.
“While all our major cities are noticing a drop in demand compared with last winter, when the British and Irish Lions Tour brought good returns, Christchurch is not doing as well as Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown.”
Christchurch’s hotel capacity has been increased by 383 rooms per day since last winter with the opening of the Crowne Plaza (204 rooms) in July 2017 and Distinction Christchurch (179 rooms) in May 2018.
“This capacity has been absorbed to a degree, but the lack of events during the winter months means this additional capacity creates challenges for all,” Ms Attfield said.
“Without the infrastructure of both a stadium/sports facility and convention centre, and therefore events, the winter months for 2018 and 2019 are going to be a challenge for all Christchurch accommodation operators.
“With the convention centre not due to open until 2020, other events and attractions are needed to boost business.”
Mr Cringle said there needed to be better collaboration between tourism organisations like ChristchurchNZ and the accommodation sector, or some moteliers would be forced out of business.
While the latest figures from ChristchurchNZ show guest nights spent in the city are actually up on last year, with international guest nights up 15 percent for May and domestic up 12 percent, destination manager Caroline Blanchfield said Airbnb was having a profound effect on the local industry.
She said: “We’ve gone from about 57 whole houses to nearly 1000 in 12 months, so everybody is jumping on the band wagon.
“We don’t want our communities dissolved because of AirBnB but equally we don’t want it all to disappear – we want a level playing field.”
Ms Blanchfield said the latest accommodation figures were, though, cause for optimism.
“I do think the whole city is on a rise,” she said. “I feel it whenever I go anywhere…the perception has changed and we are seen as a new vibrant city so that has got to help us.”
In a statement, an AirBnB spokesperson said the platform was growing the ‘tourism pie’ in Christchurch by making travel more accessible and affordable.
Christchurch City Council is considering imposing legislation on the short-let sector following industry pressure and the precedents set by Queenstown and Auckland in regulating Airbnb-style platforms.