Credited for its effective response to the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand is viewed with envy by the rest of world, which is watching on as the country returns to something resembling the pre-pandemic normal. 

The tough measures employed to keep the nation’s virus levels low have had a considerable impact on key sectors, such as travel. 

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On the South Island city of Christchurch, the people are used to responding to shocks. As its mayor, Lianne Dalziel, explains: “Our focus on building community resilience is all about supporting communities to connect with each other and enabling them to own their future.” 

Christchurch learned about its capacity for resilience in the aftermath of the 2010/2011 earthquakes which devastated the city, and the 2019 terrorist attack on two local mosques, which resulted in the loss of 51 lives. 

“We learned that being a resilient city is not just about what we do to prepare for and respond to those shocks and disruptions — for example, strengthened buildings and flexible pipes,” says Mayor Dalziel. “It is just as much about how we go about readying ourselves for anything that may happen — by nurturing partnerships, working collaboratively, building local capability and networks, and putting people at the centre of all our planning, no matter what the issue is.”

It is this resilience that the city aims to draw on to cope with the economic cost of the pandemic.

As the gateway to the South Island for many international visitors, the closure of the country’s borders to overseas tourists and visitors in mid-March 2020 had an immediate and significant impact on Christchurch’s tourism sector, visitor economy and activities, and related employment.

“The hospitality, retail, tourism, international education and accommodation sectors have been particularly hard hit,” reveals Ms Dalziel.

Other challenges include the delay in the construction of large-scale civic facilities due to the lockdown, which has delayed the import of materials as well as restricting travel by critical personnel.

“There has been a reasonable bounce back in local economic activity as the inability to travel overseas has encouraged New Zealanders to visit different parts of the country, and the ‘buy local’ messages have resonated very strongly with the local population,” she continues.

“In the longer term, I believe we will benefit greatly from New Zealand’s response to Covid-19, as people look to our country for a better way of life.”

Building back

ChristchurchNZ, the city’s Economic Development Agency, aims to future-proof the regional economy through ‘Supernodes’ — strategic strength sectors including global health tech; aerospace and future transport; food fibre and agritech; and hi-tech solutions. “Each of these enables us to frame our regional strengths in the context of global opportunities,” explains Ms Dalziel.

She adds: “Canterbury’s sophisticated agricultural and manufacturing sectors, as well as our hub of tertiary and research institutions, provide a strong base to leverage our strengths while taking on global growth opportunities.”

ChristchurchNZ is also rolling out initiatives targeted at innovators, including a citywide partnership agreement with the University of Canterbury and the Ara Institute of Technology to kick-start and support start-ups and innovation. This includes incubation programmes, innovation challenges, business mentoring and access to investor and commercial networks.

Mayor Dalziel reports: “As a city, we say, Ōtautahi Christchurch is a city of opportunity for all — open to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things — a city where anything is possible.”

This article first appeared in the February/March print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.