Covid-19: Tourism cornerstone of Wairarapa's revival

3:59 pm on 13 May 2020

According to latest figures, New Zealand travellers supply most of the tourist dollars spent across South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton Districts.

A move to create a Dark Sky reserve in Wairarapa will look to boost domestic tourism.

A move to create a Dark Sky reserve in Wairarapa will look to boost domestic tourism. Photo: Supplied

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen will work with Destination Wairarapa chief Anna Nielson on a strategy for tourism.

Beijen, Mayors Lyn Patterson of Masterton, and Greg Lang of Carterton, GWRC head Daran Ponter are part of a group focusing on the area's economic needs.

The Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy committee [WEDS] chaired by Dame Margaret Bazley has targeted nine main economic sectors.

Committee members from business, education and local government will focus on areas of potential opportunity.

Dame Margaret said the groups "have resolved to work together to provide a seamless and speedy approach to four key issues: businesses in trouble, identifying jobs, identifying people who need jobs, and identifying training needs.

"We aim to minimise damage to the economy of the Wairarapa and the trauma to people affected by the consequences of covid-19," she said.

The committee, which has been expanded to include local businessmen and representatives from primary sector and education, will meet weekly, and local iwi representatives will provide oversight on each sector.

Beijen and Nielson will work as the tourism leads on the expanded WEDS team.

"It's a massive opportunity and it gives us a mandate to be more focused on this," Beijen said.

"Of the $74million tourism dollars spend in South Wairarapa last year, $20million was international.

"For Palmerston North and Wellington, in particular, we're a very attractive destination in comparison with other North Island offerings."

Beijen said people may also be reluctant to travel between islands, so would stay very local.

"That plays into our hands. So we'd hope with the right marketing, we should be able to turn a traditionally slow time of year, winter, into a busy time."

Bearing in mind that social distancing and public health measures should still be a priority, it opened up opportunities to reclaim lost income.

"A dependence on an international market, while it has its able to provide a higher dollar value product, carries its own risks. We've seen this in South Wairarapa for many years now, a winter product, when your dependent on domestic tourism for survival.

Beijen said winter attractions remain a "holy grail" for Wairarapa, and that South Wairarapa District Council's support for the Dark Sky reserve project is part of that.

An application to the World Dark Sky association to make a reserve centred on South Wairarapa remains in flight despite the pandemic, with a target to submit the application by the end of the year.

"This is not a short term project, you have to play a long game on this one," he said.

"We need any products that come out of Dark Sky to emerge slowly and with longevity, as opposed to being a short term option.

"We, as a council, are working with Dark Sky on a lighting inventory as part of the application, so we're supporting them there as well. It's business as usual as far as Dark Sky goes."

Beijen's home town of Martinborough is the centre of the Dark Sky project, and is often perceived as Wairarapa's tourist hub.

The town's business association [MBA] welcomed the decision to move to Level 2 as an important part of reviving visitor numbers.

"Our businesses have faced significant challenges and welcome the freedom to re-open," said MBA chair Allan Hogg.

"Our town is very reliant on visitors many of whom come from over the[Remutaka] Hill. We welcome them back to our unique and fabulous town."

Hogg said the financial impacts will not diminish overnight for hi m embers, so the MBA also encourage locals to shop local where they can.

"Our business owners and operators understand the public health responsibilities they have to provide safe customer services.

"Equally we expect people to take their responsibilities seriously as well. Working together will mean everyone wins."

Annual tourism spend per Wairarapa district [projected, to March 2020]

  • Masterton: $95m domestic, $20m international
  • South Wairarapa: $53m domestic, $19m international
  • Carterton: $14m domestic, $3m international

Source: MBIE.

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