Christchurch undergoes revitalisation, focuses on crafting new identity

Christchurch has been laser-focused on shifting perceptions from its broken image of the 2011 earthquake, and is in the process of building a new city identity that positions it as an appealing place for both leisure and business travellers.

Ali Adams, chief executive, ChristchurchNZ, shared: “At the moment, we have two tourism plans that we’re developing. One for Christchurch, and one for the surrounding regions. These will be completed soon. The support of the tourism sector and recovery of the visitor economy have been absolutely crucial to Christchurch. I can’t stress how valued visitors are here in Christchurch; we really want tourism here.”

One of the murals seen during Watch This Space’s Walking Street Art Tour (Photo: Rachel AJ Lee)

For example, cruise ships can now call at Christchurch after a 12-year hiatus. Between October 2022 and April 2023, Christchurch welcomed 123,000 cruise passengers through the purpose-built Lyttelton terminal.

Adams said of this significant milestone: “Eleven years on from our last large passenger cruise ship, we have a fresh, revitalised city and new tourism experiences on offer.”

New city experiences include paddling on the Avon River with Waka On Avon, Amiki Tours’ culture and food tours, Watch This Space’s Walking Street Art Tour, while new accommodations include The Mayfair and The Observatory Hotel.

Local tour operators echo Adams’ positive sentiments.

Watch This Space’s creative director, Reuben Woods, told TTG Asia: “I am confident that visitors to the city will find a wide range of attractions and as such, I think the future of tourism is positive. With a range of events and experiences developing here, I can see the city shedding the gateway identity it has perhaps held previously.”

The Art in the Streets walking tour serves to do just that, by reconciling the impact of the quakes while contributing to the re-imagination of the city. Visitors will get to view colourful murals and graffiti art of all sizes, learn about the history of urban art, and insights into the artist’s inspiration behind each work.

Amiki Tours’ lead guide Riwai Grace, added: “Our job is simple – to let go of the past perceptions and narratives of this region and positively promote us as a must-do destination. As a new indigenous operator, it is so great to have our borders open again. We hope to see a flow of arriving international travellers who will embrace cultural experiences and will want to genuinely engage with the spaces and people that they visit.”

Amiki Tours offers a range of walking food tours that combine storytelling, history, culture and city sights with kai (food), manaakitanga (hospitality) and whanaungatanga (connection). Guests will learn facts about Christchurch and the significance of pounamu (green jade) in Māori culture, while meandering to cosy bars like Salut Salut for their cheese platters and extensive New Zealand wine list or convivial spots such as Kaiser Brew Garden, run by three German-Kiwi brothers who handcraft their beers.

Moving forward, Grace added that partnerships – with the local councils, ChristchurchNZ, and tourism operators – are incredibly crucial in ensuring the region continues to have a “positive narrative”.

Woods pointed out that partnerships with OTAs was also necessary to showcase the “activities and experiences Christchurch’s local talent and resources are producing”.

Pre-Covid, travel agents drove about 70 per cent of all international businesses into Christchurch, and in turn throughout the South Island, representing about NZ$1 billion (US$607,920) in 2019.

Adams concluded: “What remains strongest (in Christchurch) is that community spirit and sense of togetherness that runs deep over the challenges of the past decade. It has taken leadership, collaboration and a creative, open-minded approach from all of us. These things don’t happen easily, and the revitalisation of Christchurch has not been done in isolation.”

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