Gold Coast, Queenstown mayors eye sister-city plan for post-COVID revival
They’re two famous tourist destinations separated by the Tasman Sea — one with snow-capped mountains; the other with sun-drenched beaches.
Queensland’s Gold Coast and Queenstown in New Zealand couldn’t be more different, but they’ve shared the same pain during the coronavirus pandemic: a decimated tourism industry.
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is hoping a sisterly bond across the ditch can bring mutual benefits to the holiday destinations.
Councillor Tate has written to Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult, suggesting a sister-city relationship.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the two of us,” Cr Tate said.
“They’re a tourist city, we’re a tourist city … they’re strong in winter, we’re strong in summer.”
It is a suggestion that came out of the blue for Cr Boult.
“We’d be interested in having that conversation with Mayor Tom,” Cr Boult said.
“It’s not something we have considered in the past, but we are open to discussing it and we do have a lot of association between our two towns.”
What is a sister city?
If you’re thinking family discounts on flights, think again.
Traditionally, sister-city relationships don’t benefit the average person buying a plane ticket or booking a boat tour.
It’s more like the marrying of two governments or councils, entering into societal or businesses contracts, a decision rooted in shared similarities.
The Gold Coast already has 10 sister cities, some dating back more than 40 years — Fort Lauderdale, Taipei, Tainan, Netanya, Noumea, Takasu, Beihai, Dubai, Zhuhai and Chengdu.
Cr Boult said any new sister-city relationship would be bound by common goals.
“It would be interesting to look at the similarities and the make-up of our economy, what we are both looking for, how we see growth, what’s happening with the environment,” he said.
Population of 40,000
Jetstar is set to restart its Gold Coast to Queenstown route on July 3 under the new trans-Tasman travel bubble.
Since 2014, the Gold Coast Airport has facilitated direct flights between the Gold Coast and Queenstown, clocking up almost 50,000 flights in 2019.
Benefits of the arrangement may lean heavily towards Queenstown, home to far fewer people than the Gold Coast.
About 40,000 people live in the Queenstown-Lakes district including Wanaka, while the Gold Coast’s population exceeds 635,000.
Cr Boult said Australians made up the biggest market of international visitors.
Mayor ‘over the moon’
Cr Boult said the coronavirus pandemic had “ripped the guts” out of the economy in New Zealand.
He said domestic tourism had not filled the 3.2 million-travellers-sized gap and the $2 billion lost from the ban on international travel.
“A lot of businesses have gone to the wall, a lot of people have lost their jobs, a lot of mental stress … it has been really tough,” he said.
The influx of travellers, while welcome, might put pressure on an already fragile system.
“We had quite a large migrant workforce in Queenstown, but a lot of those have gone away,” Cr Boult said.
“One of the concerns we have is the availability [of an adequate] workforce now that we’re gearing tourism back up again.”
But for those looking for a more permanent holiday, Cr Boult has offered a solution.
“One of the suggestions that has been put forward is to encourage young Australians who might have been doing their [overseas exchange] in Europe or the US … to come to our part of the world and spend some time and work and have a holiday at the same time,” he said.
Australians can live and work in New Zealand without a visa under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement introduced in 1973.