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Value of tourism to the mighty Waikato

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As we approach one year since New Zealand’s borders fully opened, the return of international visitors is welcome, both for the tourism sector’s recovery and the ability of our Waikato tourism businesses to continue to provide benefits for their communities, including expenditure and employment.

While it’s fantastic to have our international manuhiri (visitors/guests) back, the domestic market continues to be critical to our region, with fellow New Zealanders equalling 70 percent of visitors to the Waikato. The good news for our region is that Tourism New Zealand research (December 2022) shows about two thirds of New Zealanders intend to take a domestic holiday in the coming year.

In January, the mighty Waikato saw 1.8m visitor days, an average of 56,600 visitors per day, an increase of 31% on the same month in 2022. Of these 1.8m visitor days, 21% were international with Australia continuing to be our largest source market.

And not only are we seeing more visitors back in the region, but they are also spending well too with domestic Tourism Electronic Card Transactions (TECT) data for February 2023 totalling $55m, an increase of 11% compared to February 2022 and 18% compared to February 2019.

For the same period international visitors contributed $14m of electronic card transactions – an increase of 625% compared to February 2022 and 40% compared to February 2019.

Tourism also helps stimulate wider business activities, particularly outside of our main city where visitation provides a significant source of income for some of our communities such as Waitomo and Raglan. With a higher demand for tourism services, businesses such as restaurants, cafes and local retail shops are more sustainable, in turn creating town vibrancy and generating job opportunities for local residents.

The value of tourism within the mighty Waikato extends beyond just economic benefits, it also contributes the cultural, societal, and environmental growth and development of the region.

The tourism industry has a vital role to play in sharing and showcasing our unique local stories. The Waikato is home to a rich tapestry of narratives that breathe life into the history, people and landscapes of the region. These narratives provide deeper meaning and connection to a place for our visitors and are being shared by many of our fantastic operators including those focussed on conservation, heritage and Māori culture.

Social interactions between visitors and locals leads to the sharing of knowledge and values that help enrich both resident and visitor experiences. Empowering our visitor sector and communities through initiatives such as our Ambassador Programme helps create storytellers and ambassadors for the Waikato, as well as building pride and knowledge of the history, special places and people of our region to proudly share with manuhiri.

Home to a wealth of diverse landscapes, waterways and coastal assets, we know that looking after our ecosystems and natural environment is more important than ever. The regenerative tourism movement in New Zealand has accelerated, creating momentum to rethink the visitor sector’s purpose, the principles by which we operate and how we measure success in Waikato. The focus for this model is that our sector actively contributes to the communities and the environment in which we operate and that we encourage visitors to embrace a regenerative way of travel.

Creating vibrancy of place, employment and education opportunities, fostering business innovation and growth, preserving our cultural heritage, encouraging social interactions between locals and visitors, developing a sense of regional pride and the protection of the environment are all intrinsic to our Waikato destination management plan and our goal of enriching the communities we, as the visitor sector, serve.

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About Author

Nicola Greenwell

Interim General Manager, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism