18 Sep 2018

Tolaga Bay business pushing forward without regional funds

5:02 pm on 18 September 2018

Almost shut down last year due to a lack of funds, the owner of the Tolaga Bay Inn, north of Gisborne, has embarked on an ambitious plan to keep the doors open by turning it into a tourism and business hub for the town.

Tolaga Bay Inn

Tolaga Bay Inn Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Lily Stender bought the Inn seven years ago and last month she launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise $50,000 to give new life to the grand old girl and the town.

The Gisborne-Tairāwhiti region recently received $13.3 million from the government's Provincial Growth Fund.

It has been earmarked to refurbish Gisborne's airport and to build a cultural centre on Mount Titirangi.

But outside the city, smaller areas who are not getting a slice of that pie have decided to get stuck in anyway.

Lily Stender hoped the Tolaga Bay Inn would become the town's information centre, offering business support services and computer training facilities.

"We couldn't just sit back and wait, we just had to get it going. We need to empower our own to master the likes of video editing and virtual reality which is really moving in the tourism space.

"If our own people know how to deliver those skills, we can have A-class jobs here in this rural town."

Ms Stender said locals needed to be at the forefront of developments but would need support.

"The inn itself helps to provide the back-end the office administration, the accounting, the marketing because some of the people who are going to do the tours are master divers or hunters or fishermen but they may lack that administrative side."

"We've got three tours that we want to get up and running for this summer season - eeling, crayfishing and a guided walk."

Director of the Tolaga Bay Inn, Lily Stender.

Director of the Tolaga Bay Inn, Lily Stender. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Tairāwhiti tourism sector is currently valued at $136 million per annum with $20 million from international visitors. But growth is slow - NZ tourism has grown by 6 percent in the last year compared with 1.5 percent growth for the region.

Those numbers come from Activate Tairāwhiti - the economic development agency for the region.

Tourism general manager Adam Hughes said while Tolaga Bay had not been given any funding yet, it would not be left behind.

"While we haven't been doing any direct funding yet, what we are doing is helping with their business case development and all the business basics that they'll need."

He said overall, tourism had been underfunded for too long.

"In short there's just not been enough development and investment in tourism over the last few decades and what we've identified is that we need more product. We've got heaps of great things to do here ... a lot of them are free."

October next year will mark 250 years since James Cook's first landing in New Zealand, when he came ashore in Gisborne.

Ms Stender said Tolaga Bay locals have taken it upon themselves to prepare for the influx of visitors because the official channels were not moving fast enough.

"That will be international attention for this region. There will be thousands of people coming here so we'll have to have things for them to do."

But Mr Hughes said there would be plenty for the visitors.

"We are moving fast enough but there's a lot of work to be done and we're putting a lot of pressure on this summer season and the months afterwards to make sure we're prepared for 2019."

The Tolaga Bay Inn has so far raised $2000.

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