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Haere rā Covid

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In August 2021, as New Zealand moved into yet another Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, the future of tourism in our region looked decidedly uncertain. But two years later things are very different – our international borders have fully re-opened and we’ve seen the removal of the last of our country’s Covid-19 restrictions, signalling a return to normal life.

In the time since international borders fully reopened to most travellers at 11.59pm on 31 July 2022, tourism in Waikato has recovered at an impressive pace. 

Earlier this year, we celebrated our first summer season with international visitors since early 2020. Despite challenges with staffing and severe weather events that could have derailed the summer, our tourism operators reported a good season.

Conferencing has been strong over the past 12 months and looks set to continue, with events like the trans-Tasman AuSAE LINC conference and the New Zealand aquatic industry’s WAVES conference set to bring hundreds of business travellers to the region in September. The incentives market is also performing well, with Amway – the world’s largest direct selling company – choosing New Zealand, including the Waikato, as the destination where it will send the top performing employees from its China offices as part of its incentive programme to motivate and reward them.

Successful events like the World Rugby Sevens, international cricket fixtures, Fieldays, Balloons over Waikato, Matariki ki Waikato Festival and the NZ Darts Masters all add to our reputation as a vibrant city and region, attracting visitors and boosting the economy.

Most recently we welcomed fans and teams from Zambia, Japan, Switzerland, Norway, Portugal, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Argentina and Sweden as part of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023TM. This influx of visitors, at what is traditionally a quieter period for international visitors, has been another boon for the region.

By the numbers, we’ve seen 13.2 million visitor days to the region in the past year, with 88 per cent of those domestic. Both domestic and international visitor spend is up on the previous 12 months, by 18 per cent and 225 per cent respectively. Hamilton City has the top overall commercial accommodation occupancy rate for the country at 75 per cent, with the rate for the region coming in three per cent above the national average of 57 per cent.

While more work is needed, there has been some good news for those struggling to find staff, with Immigration New Zealand approving close to 18,000 Accredited Employer Work Visas since May last year. Cooks and chefs are leading the charge into the country, representing almost 30 per cent of all approved visas.

New Zealand has also seen more than 60,000 Working Holiday Visas approved since March last year, with an additional 32,276 granted under special direction from the Minister of Immigration due to the impacts of being unable to enter New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic. Working Holiday Visas offer dual benefits for the tourism and hospitality sectors, by bringing people who are both visitors and workers into
the country. 

Perhaps the most exciting news is that this all doesn’t look like slowing anytime soon. Our operators across the region are reporting strong interest and bookings for the upcoming September/October school holidays, and beyond into the 2023-24 summer season.

Our international markets are now all back on stream, with Australia and North America leading the way. This is supported by increasing air connectivity into New Zealand, with several more airlines announcing their return to New Zealand later this year.

Ten airlines, including Air New Zealand, Qantas, United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines, are now offering flights between New Zealand and the United States or Canada and the next couple of months will see 46 per cent more capacity – 300,000 more seats – from North America than last summer, with some airlines offering more seats than before the pandemic.

The Tourism Export Council of New Zealand (TECNZ) International Arrival Forecasts 2023-2025 is forecasting a return of 80.4% pre-Covid total arrivals by year ending June 2024 and 100% by year ending June 2025.

As we move into this new era Tourism New Zealand and Regional Tourism Organisations (RTO’s) are focused on attracting high quality visitors – those that enrich our communities and create value more broadly for the benefit of our people, our place, and collective prosperity.

The challenge for all of us is to be ready to leverage these opportunities – something I have no doubt we’re up for. 

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About Author

Nicola Greenwell

Interim General Manager, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism