More than just a tourist attraction

Since the early 1970s Shantytown has been a must-see attraction on the West Coast and remains so today. A museum, education facility and conference centre Shantytown is attracting visitors from all over the world.

Shantytown2With upwards of 60,000 visitors annually, Shantytown is much more than just a place where you can step back in time. The gold rush themed attraction is multi-faceted, boasting educational facilities, interactive displays and a recently rebranded conference centre.

In recent years it is not only locals who are making the most of Shantytown, the overseas market has also become a large contingent. Since the Canterbury earthquakes, visitor numbers have grown steadily and that is aided by the fact Christchurch is a portal to the South Island, chief executive Andrea Forrest says.

“It is where most of our international visitors enter the South Island and many domestic visitors who fly south come via Christchurch.”

Shantytown sees a 50-50 mix of international and domestic tourists with the largest portion of international visitors hailing from Australia, China and Taiwan. Although Shantytown has been a destination for the Chinese tourist market for more than a decade now, Andrea puts the recent increase in tourist numbers down to the introduction of the China Southern flights direct into Christchurch as well as targeted overseas marketing. There is also growth from places such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

“I think it’s great for the Coast – the better the Coast does the better Shantytown does,” Andrea says.

The increase in tourism is also linked to the evolution of Shantytown over the last decade. Andrea says Shantytown understands its international tourists are well travelled and their expectations are more sophisticated. Self-guided tours, multi-lingual brochures and an increase in audio-visual technology have all been part of the upgrade.

Exposure within West Coast’s local community has also increased.

Shantytown staff often participate in community events and have pioneered several of their own including an annual children’s Halloween party.

From a tourist perspective Andrea says there is much to do. From exploring the historical aspects of the West Coast lifestyle, panning for gold, bush walks or watching a holographic-style murder mystery movie, the options are seemingly endless.

Riding the steam train, Andrea says, is by far the most popular attraction, with around 99 per cent of visitors hopping on board. However, when website statistics are analysed, the most searched building or display is the hospital.

“We probably put that down to the fact that people like the gory, hardship tales and people can compare it to their experiences today when they go to hospital – there’s a direct shock factor attached to that.”

And, it’s not just tourists who frequent the replica-mining town. With the addition of the West Coast Events Centre Shantytown has become a conference destination. Shantytown has been offering conferencing for 15 years in what was known colloquially as the “conference centre at Shantytown,” Andrea says.

However, after engaging in research around local users of the conference centre and professional conference organisers it became apparent a rebrand was needed.

“What became clear was is that the perception of the Coast as a conference centre destination was not always glamorous,” Andrea says.

“There were discussions about how long it takes to get there, the cost of getting there, and the caution of crossing the Alpine Passes in the winter.”

Following the rebrand, which has so far been successful – in March there was not a weekend free – Andrea says the West Coast Events Centre will stand alone.

From national multi-day conferences of anywhere between 10 and 400 people, awards dinners, family reunions and shows, Andrea says the event centre team can do it all, and not only is it of benefit to Shantytown but to the wider region.

“If we hold a conference of 200 people and it goes for three days, the economic benefits to the wider Grey and Westland districts of accommodation and transport spends are pretty big,” Andrea says.

Looking forward Andrea expects to see visitation continue to increase and the addition of more interactive attractions on site. Currently, research is underway on the feasibility of creating a regional archive centre at Shantytown for the Coast.

“Shantytown is working towards further expansion and a higher profile out there so that everybody knows where we are, knows we exist – a ‘must see’ attraction.”

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