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Tough times but Waikato tourism’s fit for the challenge

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The mighty Waikato tourism sector is living up to its moniker despite having experienced a second tough year, says Hamilton & Waikato Tourism’s chief executive, Jason Dawson.

As one of two regions in the country to record the largest market share increase for visitors over the past 12 months, the Waikato has so far come through the lockdowns and border closures resulting from COVID-19 in reasonable shape, he says.

“This is fantastic for the region overall – and it’s real-time confirmation the Waikato is just as sought-after by domestic visitors as it is international.

“It’s also validation that campaigns like ‘Mighty Local’ that we re-launched in September to get locals supporting local businesses do work.”

However, Jason says, it has not been easy, and the cold reality is there are pockets of the Waikato region where tourism businesses are really hurting, and jobs lost, because of the border closures as well as the months-long lack of domestic visitors.

“The most impacted are our businesses that have traditionally drawn much of their custom from international markets – but mighty locals that they are, our operators have stepped up, showing great agility with re-gearing the experiences they offer and vigorously marketing to Kiwis, knowing that in time international visitors will be able to be here too.”

He says there has, however, been quite a level of frustration amongst tourism businesses that the Government had not provided greater clarity around the timing of border re-opening and the process that would ensure everyone is kept as safe as possible.

“Having time to plan and prepare for guests is a very important part of the hospitality, the manaakitanga, we here in tourism in the Waikato always want to extend to those who visit us.

“Despite the lack of surety, though, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism and our operators are working to ensure we are primed to take the best advantage of border re-opening.

“We are working with Tourism New Zealand and our neighbours like the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Taupō planning initiatives to inspire and draw visitors back into the region and encourage them to spend more while they are here.”

Jason adds that pre-COVID, the Waikato drew 30 per cent of its visitors from Auckland, and that the re-opening of this important market is ‘a blessing and warmly welcomed’ by the Waikato tourism sector.

“In 2019 visiting Aucklanders generated $206 million for the Waikato economy in tourism earnings and, despite the lockdowns, this important market delivered $199 million to our economy in the 12 months ending in October.

“We continue to promote the many reasons why Aucklanders will enjoy visiting the Waikato, either as a day trip or to stay with us for a while,” he says. 

“Amongst our ongoing promotion is working with the media that infiltrates Aucklanders’ lives, newspaper, radio and, of course, social media, to tell our stories.

“One of our pre-Christmas efforts has been partnering with the Stuff media group to produce a spectacular 48-page colour supplement with stories and images. This has gone into the Sunday Star-Times newspaper, which has high Auckland weekend readership plus good national exposure.

“To keep our very supportive local market up with the best things to see and do in their home region, this informative supplement has also appeared in the Waikato Times.”

With the new year, Jason says there are some key Waikato events coming, with several bound to attract national and international attention.

“In March, matches for one of the hottest events of the year will happen at Seddon Park in Hamilton – the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup – where there will be teams from Australia, England, India and South Africa, as well as our own national team.

“Then in April there’s a sports event of an entirely different stature – The Middle-earth Halfling Marathon TM . This is an off-road adventure unlike any other where runners and walkers can explore the bucolic landscape of the Shire, as seen in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

“Getting up to speed for this very special event has to be a New Year’s resolution for a lot of people.”

Jason says the Waikato region is an ever-popular destination for a wide range of events with some of the fun this summer including the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival (18-27 February), Balloons over Waikato (15-19 March), the Great New Zealand Muster in Te Kuiti, regarded by many as the sheep shearing capital of the world (2 April), and Raglan Arts Weekend (16-18 April).

The new year is also a busy one on the business events calendar with some of the key events over the next six months including the likes of the Water New Zealand Conference and Expo (22-25 February), the Kudos Awards honouring scientists (3 March) and the WasteMINZ Conference (10-12 May).

He says now that Kiwis can get out and explore their own country, tourism operators in the Waikato were looking forward to an exciting, successful summer.

“We’re also cautiously optimistic we’ll soon be able to welcome international visitors again, with everyone’s safety assured. I was interested to see recent projections estimate that very few people arriving here from overseas will carry any risk – in fact, only three in 10,000 passengers, or 0.03 per cent.

“I want to give a special shout out to our three MIQ hotels here in the Waikato and their staff who have done an exceptional job helping to ensure people’s safety over the past 18 months.

“As a country – and as a region – we can be very proud. We have done the hard yards and now we deserve fun times ahead. Merry Christmas and may we all get what we wish for in 2022!”

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Jason Dawson

Chief Executive, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

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