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Quake-hit N. Zealand city eyes Asian travellers

(SINGAPORE-AFP) – New Zealand’s quake-hit city of Christchurch is targetting Asia as it ramps up efforts to boost tourist arrivals as Western economies continue to struggle, a top official said Thursday.

Tim Hunter, chief executive of the Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism office, said most of the city was now back on its feet except for the central area, which bore the brunt of the February 22 tremor that killed 181 people.

Asia “is hugely important now because of the financial catastrophe in America and Europe,” Hunter told AFP in Singapore, where he met key travel industry players.

“We are pleased that we are reasonably close to Asia,” added Hunter, who will also visit Malaysia, Japan and South Korea — all major tourism markets.

About 181 people were killed when the 6.3-magnitude tremor hit New Zealand’s second largest city.

The damaged Christchurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square on September 28, 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Apart from Northeast Asia, “there’s now a big focus on Southeast Asia because the Asian (air) links have been opened up,” he said, noting direct flights into Christchurch from Singapore and Malaysia.

Christchurch, which boasts a major international airport, is the gateway to New Zealand’s South Island, a favourite location for filming movies, including the Lord of the Rings, because of its breathtaking scenery.

Hunter said the “next big news” will be direct flights between China and Christchurch which could happen in the next three years. Direct flights currently land in Auckland in the north.

“The Chinese market into New Zealand is growing very fast,” he said.

China is the fourth biggest source of tourists into New Zealand behind Australia, Britain and the United States, but is poised to overtake the latter in the next three years, he added.

Arrivals into Christchurch were still down 30 percent on year in August and Hunter said it would take about three years to bring back arrivals to 2010 levels of 500,000 visitors annually.

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