Thousands flood to Queenstown for New Year's, but concerns remain over tourism numbers soon dropping off

Thousands have flooded Queenstown and Wanaka over the New Year's period, bringing a boost to struggling businesses. 

But despite hordes of people flocking to the area, it doesn't compare to life before COVID-19.

"[It's] about 50 percent to two-thirds of what they did this time last year, so look, good reasonable numbers, nobody's getting too excited but very good to see people here," says Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult.

Desperate for customers, some providers are offering discounts. The Rees Hotel has cut rates by up to 30 percent and it seems to have worked. Friday night's numbers were back to pre-COVID - for now.

"Ran at mid-90 percent occupancy, and we haven't done that since early July this year. If I put that in context for you, in a year I'd probably have 110,000 guests, and this year I'll be lucky to have 10,000 guests," says Rees Hotel CEO Mark Rose.

Festival Rhythm and Alps has helped bring the crowds to town, but they're only here for New Year.

"It's a shot in the arm, but it's a very short-term fix for us," Rose says.

"Come around January 10, the tides start to go out. Talking to accommodation providers, at this point, 2022 is not looking rosy for us," Boult adds.

The Earnslaw is still a popular attraction, but it's operating at limited capacity due to COVID restrictions. Most attractions like this are taking what they can get while people are in town.

"As we look into the New Year, it does continue until the middle of the month and then it really does fall off a cliff," Rose says.

Real New Zealand CEO Stephen England-Hall says if it follows last year's trend, things are going to get worse.

"We anticipate that between the end of the Christmas and New Year holiday break and maybe Easter, things are pretty quiet. I wouldn't say it's tumbleweed, but it will certainly be pretty challenging for operators."

They're hanging on to the hope of a border reopening with Australia when the snow comes.

"To the Kiwis who have come to see us, thank you, we greatly appreciate it," Boult says.