VENTURE Southland (VS) chief executive Paul Casson says international tourism has exploded in Southland and the region is playing catch-up.
Mr Casson’s comments followed the release of the latest Monthly Regional Tourism Estimates from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
MBIE acting manager of sector trends Ben Wallace said international visitors had spent $263
million in Southland for the year ending April 2017, an increase of 21% from the same period last year.
However, domestic visitor spending in Southland had only increased 1%, he said.
Newly-released VS figures for tourism showed the occupancy rate for accommodation had
increased 6% for the year ending March 2017 compared to the previous year _ and almost 30% since the year ending March 2013.
Mr Casson spoke about these increases at a meeting with VS general manager for tourism Bobbi Brown and visiting Green Party business spokesman David Clendon last month.
Mr Clendon was told of several weak points where Southland was failing to fully capitalise on international visitor numbers. These included language barriers and Invercargill’s CBD.
However, infrastructure and tourism industry staffing were the two most prominent issues to be addressed, Mr Casson said. Part of the infrastructure problem was having enough facilities in place for visitors who wanted to go to remote locations.
Mr Casson said tourists were already spilling outwards from choked-up Queenstown, and Te
Anau, in particular, was ripe to capture this overspill.
There were gaps in the local service industry, which Mr Casson hoped could be filled by South
land’s unemployed, which would in turn further help the region’s economy.
RD Petroleum Te Anau owner Diane Holmes said her petrol station had dozens of international visitors using it daily. International credit card information from sales showed payments had increased 10-15% compared with the previous season.
Mr Clendon said part of the Green Party’s policy was to charge international visitors a taonga levy at the border, then use the money to fund the Department of Conservation’s Predator Free New Zealand project and put the remainder into the regional tourism fund, which helped local councils pay for tourism infrastructure projects.
Mrs Brown said VS would have a greater focus on tourism going forward, but it would be essential to integrate this alongside community and business development.