Queenstown is the adventure sport capital of New Zealand. But as the tourist numbers swell during the ski season, so do the stag parties, boy's weekends, corporate retreats, and international business meetings. As a result, the city has developed a largely hidden yet hugely profitable sex industry.
For the sex workers who migrate south for the season, Queenstown is unique. Prostitution is legal throughout New Zealand but as Jasmine*, one of southern New Zealand's most popular escorts, told VICE, "It's more international here."
Jasmine tours New Zealand's South Island throughout the year, but spends most of her time in the mountain town. Currently at the end of a 44-day stint, she is one of the longest-staying sex workers in Queenstown. "Most of the girls book a room for about five days," explained Alice, a receptionist at a bustling motel in town. "Jasmine stays for longer because she's so busy."
Most of Jasmine's clients are between 26 and 50 years old, and almost all are international tourists. Business is so steady and reliable that she organizes rooms months ahead of time, booking them out for several weeks before even speaking to a client.
But people in town are often looking for more comprehensive attendance. The craving for companionship on holiday has led to another hugely popular service in Queenstown, the girlfriend experience (GFE). VICE spoke to Antonia, the owner of Indulge Me NZ, which offers GFE as well as everything from topless waitressing to lesbian shows. She started Indulge Me NZ two years ago after noticing a spike in this market over winter, and it's grown steadily since.
"Our girls get paid to hang out with the guys," says Antonia. "You're basically eye candy on their arm." Far from their families and partners, the men are keen to hang out with young women for a day, but unlike the common GFE, in Queenstown it's relatively chaste. "You get dressed up and have drinks or a meal together. It doesn't include kissing, although one of our girls was paid $300 to kiss a guy on a GFE," says Antonia.
Girls are also often asked to cook or clean while undressed. "Tomorrow I have some girls making bacon and eggs for a group of guys topless," Antonia says. "Sometimes they'll go to the shooting range and shoot guns with them while they're naked. Whether it's a stag party or guys' weekend, they just want to see naked girls."
Antonia and Jasmine say they both choose to work in Queenstown because the clients are nicer than in the rest of the country. "Ninety-five percent of people are good" says Jasmine, but adds that making friends with local police has helped her when clients have tried to skip out without paying.
Antonia notes she's only ever had to cancel two show bookings because the men were too drunk or rowdy. "I make sure the girls collect money before they start so they can leave if it gets unsafe," she adds.
Like any skiing or biking town, busy seasons in Queenstown revolve around sports, making July to October and December to March the busiest periods. The seasons on either side are so dead that girls working in strip clubs can make as little as $50 a night, and escorts and show-oriented businesses like Antonia's often make nothing at all. During this time, Jasmine drives to towns like Nelson, where she began working in the sex trade, and has regular customers who guarantee her income. Antonia makes ends meet by bartending in Queenstown, although the bars are quiet too. The women say the quiet months are worth it though, as they more than make up for it during the busy ski season.
Antonia reflects that the main difference about working in the industry in Queenstown is the motivation behind the women involved. Queenstown's sex industry is driven by money and entertainment. "A lot of girls that strip and do my XXX shows are backpackers looking for extra cash, not women looking to escape," says Antonia. "I choose to do it and I enjoy it."
These women and the rest of Queenstown's sex industry are now gearing up for July, when Australian tourists consume the town. As usual in the cold weather, business is booming.
Names have been changed.
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