Tourist spend tops $1b in Northland for the first time

Published 7th December, 2016

Earnings from Northland’s booming tourism industry have topped $1 billion a year for the first time with a noticeable increase in visitors from new overseas markets flocking to the region.

The latest Monthly Regional Tourism Estimates released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show tourism spend for Northland is estimated to be $1.19 billion for the year to October 2016, up 8 per cent compared with the year to October 2015.

Nationally, estimated tourism spend in the year to October was $25.6 million, with Northland getting almost 4 per cent of the total. Northland only lags behind Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Wellington in tourism earnings.

At the Whangarei i-SITE Visitor Centre at Tarewa Park yesterday there was a steady stream of tourists calling in for information about the region or to take a break from their trip.

German engineer Michael Huber and his Swiss partner Silvia Wyss flew into Auckland on Monday for a seven-week holiday in New Zealand and made their way to Whangarei on a campervan yesterday.

This is their first visit to the country and although they do not have plans to visit specific tourist spots in Northland, both want to spend three to four days exploring the region.

“Some friends of mine came to New Zealand and they really enjoyed visiting Ninety Mile Beach and other places and they made videos and took photos as well which they showed us back home,” Mr Huber said.

A group of Japanese tourists who belong to a swimming club were having lunch at the Whangarei i-SITE after returning from the Far North.

“The weather here is nice. At this time there’s a lot of snow in Japan so we thought of coming over and exploring the North Island. We visited Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach where we did sandboarding,” Satoshi Toramishi said.

He said the group enjoyed visiting Waitomo Caves the most.

Domestic tourists spent $764m in Northland in the year to October 2016- up 8 per cent from the previous season- while international visitors injected $255m - a 9 per cent rise.

The monthly tourism spend for October of $83m was up 9.4 per cent compared with the same month last year.

The Far North was the biggest beneficiary of the tourism dollar with an estimated earning of $468m, followed by Whangarei $444m and Kaipara $106m.

Retail sales except for alcohol, food, beverage, and fuel were the biggest expense in Northland at $207m, followed by passenger transport at $187m. The accommodation spend was $84m.

Of the international visitors, Australians spent the biggest amount at $71m, followed by $43m that United Kingdom visitors forked out.

Manager of Whangarei i-SITE Visitor Centre, Cheryl Lee, said there had been a noticeable increase in visitors to the centre as well as The Hub at the Town Basin this year, particularly since about August.

Bookings at the i-SITE in September, October and November this year were up 25 per cent compared with the same time last year, she said.

“We’re seeing tourists from new markets like China coming through as well as lots from the traditional markets like Australia, US, Canada, UK and Europe.

“Often those who pop in have just arrived into the country and are usually heading up north. But definitely the bookings, sales, and reservations have been up this year,” she said.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tony Collins said tourists were expected to focus more on the upper South Island and more particularly Northland after the earthquakes in Kaikoura and Christchurch and the fact Queenstown was crowded.

“Tourism has consistently been the largest contributor to GDP which is a really important component of regional economies and lot of small business and owner operator types will be involved in tourism in future.

“Having said that, tourism is a service industry so we need to know how to deliver those services in terms of infrastructure, hotels and accommodation so that tourists get a real Northland experience and feel really welcome.”