A tick for tourism


Waikato tourism has bounced back bigger and better – outperforming most of the country post Covid with the region’s 13.2 million visitors spending $857 million on card transactions.

Nicola Greenwell.

Tourist operators are treating visitors to quality and not just quantity and it is paying off, says Hamilton and Waikato tourism chief executive Nicola Greenwell in her wrap of the year ended June 30.

That “stay longer and explore deeper” approach has resulted in an annual domestic visitor spend of $751.6 million – up nearly 20 per cent on the previous year, the fourth best in New Zealand and $110 million more than the 12 months ended June 30, 2019.

Waikato people visiting Waikato were the top spenders followed by Aucklanders and Bay of Plenty.

And the international visitors – Australians, Americans and the British were the top three – came back to spend their money leaving $105.5 million in the regional coffers; up 224 per cent on the previous year and $11 million more than 2019.

Sporting, travel and cultural events are back at places including Lake Karāpiro, Mystery Creek, Hamilton Gardens, Waikato Stadium and Claudelands while business events also returned in a big way with Waikato holding 799 and accounting for 10 per cent of all the business events in New Zealand.

Only Wellington and Auckland are ahead of Waikato with the region hosting 108,500 delegates.

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism’s role is to generate competitive economic benefit through visitor sector strategies focused on increasing visitor length of stay and spend.

Its funds come from the region’s tourism industry and six local authorities – Hamilton, Matamata-Piako, Ōtorohanga, Waikato, Waipā and Waitomo.

Greenwell says June 30 seems a distant memory as the first four months of this financial year were already busy with events like the Women’s World Football Cup bringing even more people to the region.

Recent promotional trips by staff to South East Asia, America, United and Kingdom were looking very strong for the Waikato market.

“We’re feeling quite buoyant.”

The organisation’s approach has been to promote Waikato as a place to “stop, stay and dwell” and by “selling the dream” it puts Waikato into people’s minds.

Hobbiton Movie Set, Second Breakfast

At Hobbiton before Covid and at the height of the season, a tour bus would run through the movie set every five minutes. Now it is 10 minutes, she said.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

At Waitomo Caves where there were 24 people on the boat before, now there are 20.

Operators are providing tourists with a better experience, better engagement while they are there and a lighter footprint in the community.

Waikato’s $1 million share of the government’s $26 million Covid recovery funds was put to good use. Only $9 million is left unspent, said Greenwell.

“We have maximised the use of these funds with many projects, campaigns and activities for our operators. We’ve developed tools and content for the ongoing benefit of the region and the mahi that we undertake.”

The tourism organisation topped up its image library used to promote Waikato overseas.

It also ran sentiment surveys among residents on what they thought were the ups and downs of increasing tourist numbers.

Waikato’s tourism approval rating of 51 towards international visitors was streaks ahead New Zealand’s 44 and the 67 rating for domestic visitors was ahead of the country’s 63 rating.

Residents liked the benefits tourism brought such as local businesses opening longer, employment, a greater appreciation of buildings and sites and an enhanced profile.

Challenges came with more litter, parking and traffic congestion and damage to the natural environment.

“We look back on the year with pride in our region and (our) industry’s resilience to rebound from global pandemic and cyclone damage to now be performing very strongly,” said Greenwell.

  • Photos: Hamilton and Waikato Tourism



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Mary Anne Gill

Putāruru-born Mary Anne Gill is one of Waikato’s most experienced communications and public relations practitioners. She has won several national writing gongs including three times at the Qantas and twice at the Voyager media awards.

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