Canterbury jetboat company ships in New Zealand's first ever commercial airboat in bid to lure tourists

Tourist operators are having to adapt to the Kiwi traveller these school holidays to survive COVID-19.

With international visitors gone, and revenues down, some operators are forking out just to stay afloat.

But skimming Canterbury's shingle river channels is a 600-horsepower airboat - a more common sight on Florida's swampy Everglades than the Waimakariri River.

"They've never had a commercial passenger airboat in this country," explained Paul Mullan, Alpine Jet Thrills co-owner.

Mullan's jetboat company has been operating here for 36 years - though 2020 the hardest of those, with revenue down 90 percent without the international visitors.

He's hoping his new airboat will get Kiwis onboard.

"We've had to refocus. I almost hate that word everybody's using - that word 'pivoting' - but we have got to look at what we are doing and we were lucky enough to have the airboat," Mullan said.

"Maybe Kiwis will be interested in something a little different to a jet boat."

In Queenstown, 327 businesses have closed since the first of March. Bucking the trend is a new multimillion-dollar adventure park with fast jet boats and loud off-roaders.

It's opening next week - enticing holiday travellers.

"Kiwis want to do stuff; they're travelling around flat-stick; they're spending money; they want to try new things - you can't do these products anywhere else in the country," Oxbow Adventures managing director Darb Richmond said.

It comes as no surprise for the industry that thrives on new attractions and innovation.

"With new products that's how to attract people that think they know everything that's in an area, to go there and try something new," Tourism Industry Aotearoa CEO Chris Roberts said.

Skimming across the surface, this Alpine Jet Thrills staying afloat in unchartered waters.