29 May 2023

Tourism operators facing lower demand after extreme weather

8:21 pm on 29 May 2023
Tukituki River, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

Tukituki River, Hawke's Bay (file photo). Photo: HBRC

Tourism businesses in cyclone-hit regions say the welcome mat is out, but not enough people have come in.

For many in the tourism industry, winter usually signals a time to hunker down and survive off their summer earnings - but Cyclone Gabrielle cut summer short, causing widespread disruption and damage after an already difficult few years.

Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the economy in Hawke's Bay.

Hawke's Bay Tourism chief executive Hamish Saxton said the sector was very much back in business in the region.

"Tourism ... employs roughly 10 percent of our population in Hawke's Bay, it's worth over $620 million. It's really, really important."

However, it had been a challenge to banish perceptions Hawke's Bay was difficult to get to, and a drop in visitors numbers would hit businesses across the region, he said.

They could deliver great experiences, but the demand was sadly lacking, he said.

"Our visitor economy is very, very reliant upon the understanding that for the very, very most part, our industry, our sector are warmly welcoming and highly desirous of visitors to be back and enjoying Hawke's Bay."

Hawke's Bay Tourism has been trying to encourage more to visit through domestic social media campaigns.

International tourist numbers have been strong, but the majority of the region's visitor market - about 80 percent - relies on domestic travellers.

While winter was traditionally a shoulder season, Saxton said they had plenty of events to entice more travellers over the slower months.

Further north in Tairāwhiti, Māori-owned Maunga Hikurangi Experience is temporarily closed due to cyclone damage to track and roads, with hopes of a July reopening.

Programme manager Brett Johnston said he was looking forward to returning to some sense of normality.

"Just take the time over winter to pause, reset and then come spring and summer we can re-engage again and go back to market and say that we're open, ready for business, nau mai haere mai."

Dean Savage from Dive Tatapouri said they did not experience any structural damage but when access to Gisborne was cut off, the flow of visitors was too.

"We had support from our local community but without a doubt the numbers crashed, and it was particularly hard on a lot of the operators having just gone through Covid. So, we're looking forward to a year on the back of that - a year we're finally open - and then the cyclone hits."

While highway access had been restored, there were still plenty of roadworks under way, and traffic controls in place.

"We've dealt with a few bumps in the road before," Savage said.

"For the new operators, quite a bit tougher. The roads are going to be open in spring so we want to let New Zealand know we're open for business in spring and I think that will bring in a new energy back into the region."

Tourism New Zealand chief executive René de Monchy said part of their role was ensuring travel sellers and visitors were well informed about visiting the regions.

"Our key focus now really is making sure there's accurate information, knowing who's open, where can I stay, what can we do, and importantly, how do I get there."

A nearly $1 billion flood and cyclone recovery package was announced as part of the government's Budget this year, with funding to rebuild the roading network.

Earlier in the year, $75 million was approved to assist businesses with immediate costs and clean-up.

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