Waikato’s reputation continues to rise


The reputation of the Waikato region as a significant visitor destination is continuing to grow domestically and internationally.

For many years, Hamilton and Waikato was not recognised as a major tourism hub for our country. This always surprised me given that for 130 years, visitors have been guided through the underground wonders of the Waitomo Caves, and the mineral spas of Te Aroha have always attracted visitors to heal and restore their health. However, since guided tours started at Hobbiton Movie Set in 2002 and Hamilton Gardens reached one million visitors a few years back, the region began to emerge from the shadows.

As the spiritual birthplace of surfing at Raglan, the successful home of high-performance sport and world cups, hosting some of the country’s most significant events like Fieldays, building the world’s largest mainland predator-free sanctuary at Maungatautari, developing New Zealand’s only tea plantation at Zealong Tea Estate, plus our emerging Māori cultural experiences anchored around the Kiingitanga, Waikato River and the land wars, Waikato is starting to be noticed.

Last month, ‘The Mighty Waikato’ was named in the Forbes top 50 bucket-list destinations. This list was compiled by Big 7 Travel which surveyed its 1.5 million-strong social audience in order to determine the best bucket-list places around the world.

Earlier this year, Hamilton was named as the ‘number one summer destination’ by Book-a-Bach users, much to the chagrin of other traditional summer hot spots. A lot of this change has been due to the significant number of world-class events we are attracting to the region during our peak summer period. Our goal is to grow our current event portfolio, while attracting new major events, during our shoulder seasons.

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism this year won ‘Best Airport Collaboration’ at the 2019 Regional Tourism NZ Awards for its Alibaba partnership with Christchurch Airport. This follows last year’s success at the same awards where the region won ‘Best Domestic Performance’ which was independently assessed by AA Traveller.

Finally, to top-off the success of 2019, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism was named as a finalist in the New Zealand Tourism Awards for its work on developing ‘The Mighty Waikato’ regional visitor brand and as an emerging leader. Although we didn’t manage to win these two particular awards, it is the exceptional economic performance and results which show clear evidence we are now a major tourism powerhouse.

The region is the fifth largest visitor economy in New Zealand behind Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown – fifth for international visitor expenditure and fourth for domestic spend. Tourism is now injecting $1.562 billion per annum into the regional economy with an estimated $366 million coming from international visitors, while domestic holds significant spend by contributing $1.196 billion. These are significant figures and it’s not just tourism which benefits from the growth in visitor expenditure.

The latest Monthly Regional Tourism Estimates for the year ending August 2019, show that visitors love to shop (retail spend $844 million), experience our fine Waikato hospitality (food and beverage spend $238 million), get around our region (transport $93 million) and stay in quality commercial accommodation ($87 million). Other beneficiaries include the arts and recreation sector where visitors spend on average $300 million.

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism is the regional tourism organisation charged with increasing international and domestic visitor numbers, expenditure and stay. The organisation is funded through a public/private partnership and covers the heartland Waikato areas of Hamilton City, Matamata-Piako, Otorohanga, Waikato, Waipa, South Waikato and Waitomo Districts. Find out more: www.waikatonz.com


About Author

Jason Dawson

Chief Executive, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism