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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
New Zealand pushes tourism to extremes
By Christian Mahne
In Queenstown, New Zealand

Bungee jumper
Bungee-jumping is based on a South Pacific fertility rite
Queenstown is the extreme sports capital of the world, where the fearless go to frighten themselves.

The adventure business is the town's lifeblood. Tourists outnumber locals 100-1, and all of them want something unforgettable.

When you talk about adventure tourism in New Zealand, this is where it all began.

Queenstown was put on the map with the first commercial bungee jump on 12 November 1988. Since then 450,000 people have taken the plunge.

The secret to bungee's success is that even though it looks very dangerous, it is in fact pretty safe. What people pay US$85 for is the fear factor, according to bungee co-founder Henry Van Ash.

"What is actually extreme is what people go through in their minds," he said.

"From a marketing perspective, when we started out we had to convince people that we're very safe, and that it was a bit extreme."

New wave

Things have changed. In today's extreme sports game, innovation is the key.

Making things taller and scarier than before brings visitors back for more, and makes headlines.

The evolution of bungee is a good example.

When it's time to fight over the visitor that's in town, it's a real fight
David Kennedy, Destination Queenstown

It was born as a fertility rite in the South Pacific, developed by the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club, and commercialised by the New Zealanders.

From the original bridge jump of 15 years ago, there's now a heart-stopping parasail version.

It's 180 metres up and straight down, in a two-man seat suspended beneath a giant parasail.

There's a joke in the bungee trade: business, they say is up and down, and there's some truth in that.

Not all the 1.2 million people who visit New Zealand every year want to swing around on the end of an elastic band.

But the secret to Queenstown's commercial success is that there's something for everyone.

Jet boats might not be the scariest white-knuckle ride in town, but they are one of the most popular.

Stiff 'co-opetition'

The boats here have been providing thrills for 40 years. And with 120,000 passengers a year paying $50 a head, that makes them one of the biggest commercial enterprises in Queenstown.

The truth is that Queenstown's economic success is down to no one factor, but rather a combination of opportunity and preparation that's led to an unusual symbiosis between the competing businesses here.

"Queenstown started purely as a scenic destination, and adventure tourism started next and became the second pillar to Queenstown's brand," says David Kennedy, chief executive of Destination Queenstown.

"The tour operators do work together very closely, but when it's time to fight over the visitor that's in town, it's a real fight. We use the world co-opetition here."

The great hope locals have is that Queenstown's now got the critical mass to ride out the sort of boom and bust cycles that have plagued life here in the past.

But as long as there are thrill seekers, there'll always be Queenstown.

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