7 Jul 2023

FIFA Women's World Cup: Hotel bookings slow but tour numbers 'really good'

10:40 am on 7 July 2023
Football Ferns striker Hannah Wilkinson with FIFA Chief Women's Football Officer Sarai Bareman.
FIFA Women's World Cup trophy tour, Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland, New Zealand. Thursday 4 April  2019. © Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Football Ferns striker Hannah Wilkinson with FIFA chief women's football officer Sarai Bareman during a trophy tour. They were at the venue for the cup's opening match in Eden Park. Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Hotels across the country are bitterly disappointed they are yet to see the promised flood of bookings from international visitors ahead of this month's FIFA Women's World Cup.

Industry body the Hotel Council is blaming a Covid-19 restriction which forces people to isolate for seven days if they get the virus.

Tour companies, though, are seeing plenty of bookings.

The FIFA Women's World Cup starts on 20 July in Australia and New Zealand - with the first game at Auckland's Eden Park. Matches will be played in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin.

Government forecasts in 2019 were predicting 22,000 overseas visitors for the cup and a total of 355,000 overnight stays in tourist accommodation.

The Hotel Council could not put an exact number on the bookings so far but strategic director James Doolan said it has been extremely disappointing.

''Unfortunately for hotels the pace of bookings has been sedate, it's a steamboat, not a jetboat so far."

He said a Covid-19 restriction and long visa processing time could be playing a part.

''Immigration New Zealand's website still has a warning banner saying that there are processing times that are longer than expected. There's a note about the FIFA World Cup, advising fans to get their visas by the end of April, rather than any fast-track method for quickly getting a visa now."

Annie Dundas, from Auckland's economic development agency Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, is confident things will pick up for hotels.

"The tournament is obviously over a month so we will have people coming in and out initially in the first phases and then obviously we get into the quarters and the finals, semi-finals and so on, so we expect stronger numbers into the central city."

Tour companies said they are getting plenty of interest and gearing up for a busy couple of months.

EcoZip Adventures founding director Gavin Oliver said bookings were up 230 percent on the same period last year.

"It looks like Christmas, so the forward bookings are absolutely fantastic, they are really, really good numbers. Particularly in the middle of winter, we could not be more grateful for this kind of stuff."

Bush and Beach Tours owner Ben Thornton agreed.

"July, August is normally our low season and we are seeing days which are as busy as mid-summer on a cruise ship day, so we are absolutely blown away by the response."

He said the cup was a much needed boost as the industry had been struggling since the pandemic, especially in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa general manager Greg Thomas was confident that overall, the economic impact will be good.

"Our members are indicating that they are seeing valuable business coming through, especially from the teams and management of FIFA staff and guests. I don't think what can be underestimated is the value of the overseas viewership of the games."

In April, FIFA's online booking system left some New Zealand fans struggling to get hold of tickets and there was concern we were falling well behind Australia in filling our stadiums.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 chief executive Dave Beeche told Morning Report ticket sales were "absolutely on track".

Women's World Cup 2023 chief executive Dave Beeche at the World Cup launch in Dunedin.

Women's World Cup 2023 chief executive Dave Beeche at the World Cup launch in Dunedin. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

So far, more than 1.2 million tickets had been sold, of which 300,000 were for New Zealand games, leaving about 900,000 tickets still to be sold - if every seat for every game sold.

"We're absolutely on track ... you normally sell 30 percent by [a month out], you sell 30 percent in the last month and 40 percent once the tournament starts," Beeche said.

"We're tracking well."

About 40 percent of tickets already bought had been purchased by people overseas, he said. And that data did not match with hotels' reports of less bookings than expected.

One possibility was that people could be booking alternative accommodation such as Airbnb.

"Our data is showing that there are a lot of international purchasers coming. Anecdotally, we're hearing the length of stay might be longer than anticipated, so when you're staying for 12, 14, 16 nights, perhaps you're looking at alternative non-traditional forms of accommodation?"

He encouraged New Zealanders to join in the fun.

"Teams are arriving, we've already got Norway, Vietnam and South Africa here, and I'm about to head out to the airport and welcome Italy in.

"All the cities are dressed right around the country - there's billboards, buses everywhere, the excitement's building, and I'd say to New Zealanders get on board, get involved, get your tickets - this is going to be a massive celebration - so enjoy it!."

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