Through the foresight of our previous board and chief executive Kiri Goulter, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism embarked on developing a Tourism Opportunities & Development Plan back in 2015.
Part of the package included increased funding from our seven funding councils and the employment of a new development manager to help unlock the potential of our region as a key visitor destination while also getting more visitor dollars flowing into the region.
So nearly three years on, how is Hamilton & Waikato Tourism doing?
The Tourism Opportunities & Development Plan created a blueprint for the next 5-10 years to grow the value of tourism. Original targets set in the 2015 Visitor Strategy was to grow visitor spending by $350 million by 2025, from its previous $1 billion value. We have succeeded and exceeded this target, now injecting $1.524 billion per annum into the regional economy and having the fifth largest expenditure behind Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.
Currently, international visitors contribute an estimated $369 million to the region, while domestic spend delivers $1.156 billion. Commercial guest nights are also growing with an estimated 1.421 million bed nights in the region, an increase of 7.2 percent on the previous year. Plus, our market share of multi-day business events by event number is eight percent, third behind Auckland and Wellington.
We have worked hard for many years to promote our region as a ‘must visit’ destination, both nationally and internationally, often alongside many of our iconic and emerging tourism businesses. Our collective marketing efforts are starting to pay off, with the current trend for international visitors to stay in Waikato for the first or last night of their New Zealand itinerary.
However, it’s been the activation and delivery of the Tourism Opportunities & Development which has helped drive growth for our region.
Five game-changer projects were identified to super-charge growth in the local tourism sector and contribute to the regional economy.
1. Activating the Waikato River
The Waikato River is our region’s unique selling proposition. However, it isn’t readily prominent or accessible for use by locals or visitors. The plan has started to see the river activated with new infrastructure, cycleway extensions and improved access, including a focus on events and new visitor experiences that celebrate the river.
2. Turning Hamilton around to face the river
Emphasis has been placed on developing the Hamilton City riverfront, supporting the implementation of the Hamilton River Plan to create a vibrant and active riverside destination for residents and visitors. We work closely with Hamilton City Council, commercial property developers and our tourism partners on new developments such as the recently opened ‘Victoria on the River’ precinct.
3. Telling the Kiingitanga story
Māori tourism presents an opportunity for the region to tell its cultural story, with potential focus on the Kiingitanga, the Waikato River, significant sites and our natural environment. The plan has supported the development of authentic, local, cultural experiences to provide a greater understanding of our special place to manuhiri (visitors) to Waikato. New cultural experiences have been developed at Wairēinga (Bridal Veil Falls), Ngāruawāhia, Rangiriri, Cambridge, Tuakau and Pureora.
4. Delivering exceptional major events
The Regional Major Events Strategy will be a significant enabler and is nearing completion. Expanding existing major, regional, niche and community events – and developing new ones – will benefit existing tourism businesses and enable the development of accommodation, transport, hospitality and attractions. We want to develop an events programme that smooths seasonal fluctuations in the visitor industry, providing more reliable and increased employment and greater returns to business owners.
5. Creating a strong regional visitor proposition
The fifth game-changer is the development of a Regional Brand Strategy which will provide a clear and strong framework to help us stand out as a destination in an increasingly crowded marketplace. A strong brand has the potential to unite the region, create passionate ambassadors with our residents and help improve perceptions, especially within the domestic market.
Outside of the five game-changers, we are continuing to develop tourism experiences around our key strengths as a region, such as sports tourism, agri-tourism, Maori cultural tourism, health and wellbeing, and food-related experiences. We also co-create visitor destination plans with local communities to help them shape experiences and grow their product offering.
Transitioning Hamilton & Waikato Tourism into destination management and development has been a success which has helped move our region from a high-volume into a high-value visitor destination.