Aussie skiers bring big bucks to town

4 minutes read
Posted 27 March, 2024
SnowMachine Queenstown 2023 BestOf PatStevenson 074 copy v3

Snow Machine has quickly established itself as one of the most fun and hedonistic events on the Queenstown calendar, very popular with Aussies. Photos: Patrick Stevenson

An estimated record number of 50,000 Aussies flocked into Queenstown for ski holidays last year, injecting about $100m into the local economy, and so far, operators are predicting similar numbers for this year, in some cases slightly ahead.

However, there’s an air of caution in the trans-Tasman wind.

Aussie ski package wholesalers say higher interest rates and living costs mean there’s a hesitation in certain sectors of the market.

Mountain Watch Travel managing director Quentin Nolan’s company brought about 10,000 Aussies to Queenstown last ski season, most of them staying a minimum of seven nights and spending an average $AUS2500 each, worth about $AUS25m to the Queenstown economy.

His popular week-long Snow Machine event alone brought in $AUS15m last year.

His ski package bookings to date are similar to last year, but he’s seeing “a bit of hesitation” after the high of last year’s post-Covid excitement and buzz.

“People don’t have as much discretionary income this year. Interest rates are high. When it gets to a certain price skiing is not affordable for the average family,” he says.

“But Queenstown and New Zealand are still going for it.” Prices may have gone up, but Queenstown ski holidays still cost significantly less than skiing in Australia, Nolan says. While Perisher boasts 35 chairlifts, its lift pass is $AUS220 this year and despite the Aussie resorts throwing special offers onto the market Queenstown is still a better deal, he says.

He’s forecasting Snow Machine will bring 7000 people to Queenstown in September with Aussies snapping up 3500 tickets the first day they were released at the start of March. He’s also put more investment into his talent line-up this year with the likes of Angus and Julia Stone and Peking Duk.

Sno’n’Ski Holidays managing director Daniel Walker says there was a pent-up record demand last year, post-Covid. “Last ski season we brought 4200 people, injecting $AUS7.5m into Queenstown.”

While the strong Queenstown bookings are similar for most operators this year, Walker says he’s expecting “a slight softening on that” with some Aussies feeling the cost-of-living pinch.

“We’re seeing that four and five-star clientele who don’t have a mortgage still spending more than ever before, but it’s that three and four-star market with high interest on home loan repayments who are feeling the pinch and travelling less,” Walker says. “If they don’t have a mortgage, regardless of age or how many kids they have, they’re pretty much laughing.”

Unfortunately, though, some are laughing all the way to Japan instead, with its ski industry seeing a boom in Aussies and Kiwis, thanks to a weak Japanese yen.

“Japan’s going through a mega wave in popularity. There’s a significant hype around skiing there at present. It took around 47% of our international market share for the 2023/24 Northern Hemisphere season.” That popularity isn’t waning with strong interest in Japan among Australians for the 2024/25 ski season. Australians are deciding whether to ski the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, he says.

However, Aussies still see Queenstown as exceptional value for a ski holiday and while bookings may not have increased on last year’s boomer, they’re still strong. “It’s very early days yet and so much can change.”

The Rees Hotel CEO Mark Rose says he has a really good base of ski season bookings, but snow conditions last season are making some Australians weary of booking early.

“Bookings follow people’s experience from the previous year.” However, he’s “quietly confident” that good snow will bolster interest as always, hopefully around the different school holidays. Airfares are reasonably priced, which is an enticement. “August is strong for us with conference and incentive work.”

Crowne Plaza general manager Stewart Manson says his ski season packages are pacing similar to last year’s strong results, but people are taking longer to make a decision.

“That may be the economy, but Australians may also be waiting to see what the snow’s like after last year’s poor snow conditions there,” he says. “There’s a bit of caution around bookings, but we’re forecasting we’ll do the same as last year, if not more. Our rates are strong and if we get some early snow, we will see more bookings confirming.”

NZSki CEO Paul Anderson says it’s too early for firm numbers but anecdotally there’s a softening in the NZ market with everybody feeling the pinch. The announcement of the Government funding for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts could have some impact in the south, but a lot will depend on the decisions of those who “wait until the snow arrives to choose”.


Record Summer

Queenstown tourism and hospitality operators are revelling on the tail of a record February for many, with those busy numbers continuing to roll on into March.

The Rees CEO Mark Rose says February was the biggest month in the 15-year history of the hotel. “It’s been a record revenue summer and it’s not stopping,” he says. “The hotel’s full for March as well. November, December, January and March will all be record months for us.” The US and China have been his busiest markets, with Australia close behind.

Quentin Nolan says business through his downtown Surreal Bar in February has significantly exceeded expectations in what’s been a very busy summer. “Our numbers have been really good. I think Queenstown is cranking. It’s really strong.”

Crowne Plaza general manager Stewart Manson too has had a record December, January and February in occupancies and rate performance. The Australian market remains strong, and the US market has returned well over summer, he says.

DQ Board member Carlyn Topp, of Highview Apartments, says it’s been “crazy busy” for the past six weeks. “February was our busiest month ever.”

DQ CEO Mat Woods says it’s been great to see Queenstown experience a strong summer with all global borders back open again for the first time since the pandemic.


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