Otago Daily Times

Back­pack­ing world turned up­side down

- Matthew.mckew@odt.co.nz Travel · Queenstown · Queenstown · New Zealand · United Kingdom · United States of America · Germany · England · England national football team · Christchurch · Athol · Urbanz Accommodation Christchurch

TWENTY years ago, back­pack­ing re­ally took off — in 2020, the op­po­site hap­pened.

Thanks to Covid­19, young back­pack­ers were forced to put away their pass­ports and stay home.

For the hos­tel in­dus­try in Queen­stown, where rooms had been booked out weeks in ad­vance — back­pack­ers look­ing for an ex­ten­sion of­ten had to check the Hostel­world app religiousl­y and beg re­cep­tion­ists for good news — the world turned up­side down.

The im­pact of Covid­19 was stark, and for hos­tel own­ers, any re­duc­tion in oc­cu­pancy lev­els dur­ing the win­ter sea­son meant fi­nan­cial loss.

New Zealand Hos­tel As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Brett Dun­can owns two hos­tels in the re­sort, Ad­ven­ture Queen­stown and Ad­ven­ture Q2.

‘‘If I ran 100% full, 365 days a year, I would have to sell beds at an av­er­age of $28 a night to break­even.

‘‘At the mo­ment, the cheap­est bed we are selling is $21, which in peak sea­son would usu­ally be $38.’’

Hos­tels in Queen­stown ran at 37% oc­cu­pancy be­tween the end of lockdown and Septem­ber — 5% above the na­tional av­er­age — when they would nor­mally have hit 95%.

‘‘None of us are mak­ing money and we’ve got a race to the bot­tom with rates.’’

Mr Dun­can had con­verted his Q2 hos­tel in Athol St to a board­ing house, of­fer­ing weekly dis­counted rates to for­eign­ers who needed to make their money stretch.

He said oth­ers had adopted sim­i­lar strate­gies, but he did not be­lieve there was any im­pact on the rental mar­ket be­cause the peo­ple stay­ing had lim­ited time left on their visas.

In his Camp St hos­tel, half of his guests were in­ter­na­tional visi­tors, while the rest were New Zealand cou­ples look­ing for pri­vate rooms or groups of friends book­ing out dor­mi­to­ries for week­end stays.

‘‘Ki­wis will come stay in hos­tels if you have pri­vate rooms be­cause they still have the com­mu­nal fa­cil­i­ties — kitchens, lounge rooms — which is an ad­van­tage to some peo­ple.

‘‘Some peo­ple just like the vibe.’’

He said the un­ex­pected pickup in the do­mes­tic mar­ket had been ‘‘some­thing of a saviour’’, but it was nowhere near enough to en­able a busi­ness to show a proft.

In or­der to cap­ture the mar­ket, he had con­verted some dorms to pri­vate rooms and pressed for­ward with a green plan.

The hos­tels had gone bag­less, with re­cy­cling bins in each room, energy­ef­fi­cient LED lights and other en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ini­tia­tives.

Sus­tain­abil­ity was a key is­sue for the mod­ern back­packer, and it would be an im­por­tant fac­tor in where those trav­el­ling when the borders re­opened would choose to stay, Mr Dun­can said.

Even be­fore Covid­19, cracks had ap­peared in the hos­tel mar­ket, with fewer young visi­tors from Bri­tain, the US and Ger­many.

‘‘Tourism youth num­bers were soft­en­ing, it’s not like any­body was pan­ick­ing, but cer­tainly the num­bers were soft­en­ing on pre­vi­ous years.’’

Mr Dun­can said the lead­in time for his hos­tel book­ings — the point at which the hos­tel reached 90% ca­pac­ity — fell from three weeks to seven days.

‘‘In­dus­try­wide, we prob­a­bly peaked in sum­mer 2015­16 and it’s been a slow, slow de­cline. . . and then of course in March this year, the tap got turned off.’’

One of his staff, Ben Oren, from Eng­land, worked part time to cover his ac­com­mo­da­tion bills and had a sec­ond job in a nearby bar.

The 29­year­old was at­tracted to Queen­stown by the ski sea­son and said hos­tels were the ideal place to meet peo­ple.

How­ever, he be­lieved in

New Zealand they were too ex­pen­sive and of­ten tried to be too flash — for him, a cheap room was more im­por­tant.

When Mr Oren first moved to the re­sort, find­ing a job had been near im­pos­si­ble, but now he said there were many opportunit­ies for work.

His col­league, Emily Kur­land (32), said she was hold­ing out hope for a Queen­stown­spe­cific visa ex­ten­sion, as she had no de­sire to re­turn to her na­tive United States.

Both agreed the so­cial as­pect of hos­tel life had changed, with fewer in­ter­na­tion­als and large groups of New Zealan­ders mainly stick­ing to their friend­ship groups.

Across town, Tahuna Pod Hos­tel has man­aged to main­tain oc­cu­pancy rates at a rea­son­able level — but through heavy dis­count.

Op­er­a­tions manager Holly Mulef said that came with prob­lems, as it meant the more lux­ury style hos­tel at­tracted a dif­fer­ent clien­tal to usual.

‘‘It’s caus­ing a lot of prob­lems, it’s af­fect­ing our rep­u­ta­tion and ratings online.’’

She said even with prices be­low 50% what they would nor­mally charge, some peo­ple were ask­ing for cheaper rates.

‘‘Peo­ple are re­fus­ing to pay and they are go­ing to drive busi­nesses into the ground.’’

Ms Mulef said an­other ma­jor is­sue had been get­ting staff and to em­ploy New Zealan­ders; they had had to raise wages by $5 an hour at a time when they were los­ing money.

The staff short­ages even mean us­ing ex­ter­nal clean­ing con­trac­tors.

Re­cent re­marks by new Tourism Min­is­ter Stu­art Nash about tar­get­ing high value tourists could also have ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

‘‘I firmly be­lieve that the low­spend­ing but high­cost tourist is not the fu­ture of our tourism in­dus­try,’’ Mr Nash said.

In Christchur­ch, Ur­banz Ac­com­mo­da­tion Christchur­ch co­owner Paul Crooks bris­tled at that idea.

‘‘He’s com­pletely wrong. Back­pack­ers ac­tu­ally spend the most money in the coun­try be­cause they stay for weeks and months. They are the high­value tourists.

‘‘They’re the ones that spread out around the whole coun­try, they are the ones who support all the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.’’ — Ad­di­tional re­port­ing Star Me­dia

 ?? PHO­TOS: MATTHEW MCKEW ?? Hos­tel com­mu­nity feel . . . Queen­stown hos­tel owner Brett Dun­can says things are far from nor­mal with the borders closed, but hos­tels of­fer a wel­com­ing environmen­t to meet new peo­ple.
PHO­TOS: MATTHEW MCKEW Hos­tel com­mu­nity feel . . . Queen­stown hos­tel owner Brett Dun­can says things are far from nor­mal with the borders closed, but hos­tels of­fer a wel­com­ing environmen­t to meet new peo­ple.
 ??  ?? Meet­ing mod­ern needs . . . Beds at Ad­ven­ture Hos­tel Queen­stown comes with all the mod cons, says owner Brett Dun­can.
Meet­ing mod­ern needs . . . Beds at Ad­ven­ture Hos­tel Queen­stown comes with all the mod cons, says owner Brett Dun­can.

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