Waikato locals positive about tourism’s impact


Going on holiday and exploring new places takes us out of our daily routine, creates lasting memories, and allows us to meet new friends and experience new cultures.

It can also positively impact the people and communities being visited, especially if it’s done sustainably and with consideration in equal measure by visitors, the businesses hosting them, and the many parties responsible for creating the infrastructure that supports their stay.

In early May we received the results of the latest Views on Tourism: Hamilton & Waikato survey. This annual study measures Waikato residents’ opinions about tourism and its impacts, helping us to determine our sector’s ‘social licence’ to operate, taking stock of just how sustainable and beneficial tourism is in our region.

The most recent survey ran between December 2022 and March 2023 and it shows positive results, including the finding that 85 per cent of Waikato residents believe they have personally benefitted from tourism activity in our region.

While some residents reported a few negative impacts in their local area, such as trouble finding a car park, litter or traffic congestion, it was heartening to see that 76 per cent of respondents felt positive action was being taken to address these issues.

The results also suggested a growing pride in our region, with a larger proportion of residents in this year’s survey saying they think people from outside the region think it is a good place to visit. Many residents believe visitors to Waikato see it as a beautiful clean, green destination, with Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton Movie Set and Hamilton Gardens identified as being among the key visitor attractions, along with natural assets such as the Waikato River, walking and cycling trails and the region’s beaches.

One of the unique aspects of this Views on Tourism research is its calculation of a Tourism Approval Rating score based on residents’ responses to key survey questions.

On this measure, Waikato residents gave domestic tourism a higher approval rating than international tourism (51 for international versus 67 for domestic). Approval ratings for domestic and international tourism were higher this year than in last year’s survey and both were regarded more positively by Waikato residents than by their counterparts in the rest of New Zealand.

While the drivers of these rising approval ratings will be many, the recovery from Covid is likely to be a factor. Travel restrictions and the impact of diminished visitor numbers throughout the pandemic caused businesses to close and this in turn enabled greater awareness of tourism’s contribution to employment and the vibrancy of communities, including their local hospitality scenes.

In recent months I have spoken a lot about the national shift towards ‘regenerative tourism’ and the focus on creating a sector that actively contributes to the communities and the environment in which we operate. More than just dollars and cents, our regional destination management plan is about creating vibrancy of place, employment and education opportunities, preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage, encouraging social interactions between locals and visitors, developing a sense of regional pride and protecting the environment.

As we continue to evolve in this space, there is the opportunity for improvement. With visitor numbers continuing to rebound, many respondents commented on the need for improved community infrastructure to make sure spikes in visitor numbers don’t negatively impact locals. Other top priorities residents identified included making sure tourism creates local employment opportunities, continued efforts to attract domestic visitors, and work to encourage visitors to travel outside of peak season and more widely across our region.

Addressing these priorities is part of our Destination Management Plan and we will continue to work closely with councils, iwi, tourism operators and our many communities to explore new ways to ensure tourism remains a positive force for Waikato.


About Author

Nicola Greenwell

Interim General Manager, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism