Visitor spend up 20 percent in Central

by Kim Bowden - Feb 18, 2022

Central Otago’s crushed doom and gloom tourism predictions coming out top of the list of 31 regions around the country recording growth in visitor spend last year.

Central's left the door open for visitors: A section of the popular Lake Dunstan Cycle and Walking Trail, which opened last year.

The region recorded a close to 20 percent growth in spend compared to 2020.

Not far behind was neighbouring Clutha region.

While nationally the average year-on-year growth in tourism spend was four percent, these two regions recorded 19.3 percent and 19.1 percent respectively.

Visitors funnelled much-needed revenue into cash registers at shops throughout Central Otago, with retail spending the most significant proportion of visitor spend in the region at 65 percent.

Tourism Central Otago general manager Dylan Rushbrook says the result is one to celebrate as it came in a year where the pandemic and travel restrictions provided challenges no corner of the country was immune to.

“Kiwis have more than made up for the loss of international visitors in our region, and we are so very grateful for that.”

The growing profile of Central Otago as a destination and a push for domestic tourists to explore their own backyards has helped the Central Otago community to thrive during a difficult time, he says.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing that some tourism operators have never been so busy, but like almost every other sector, many are struggling to find staff.”

Key to the region’s success: ongoing investment from both the private and public sector has built on the solid economic foundation the region enjoyed pre-pandemic, he says.

“In addition to new visitor product developed by local operators, infrastructure like the Central Otago Touring Route and the Lake Dunstan Trail all provide even more compelling reasons to explore the region.”

Despite the positive results, there is obvious concern around the immediate impacts of the Omicron outbreak on our local operators, and the wider region, he says.

His eyes are on Queenstown – the primary gateway for visitors to Central.

“We need Queenstown to pull through this and be the jewel in New Zealand’s tourism crown. We’ve said it plenty of times before, when Queenstown is doing well, we all do well.”

Coffee Afloat owner-operators Jolanda and Richard Foale, of Cromwell. Tourism Central Otago head Dylan Rushbrook says he's hearing some tourism operators have never been so busy.

Central Otago District Council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs says, while the next 12 months remain relatively unpredictable for tourism, the future for Central Otago as a destination looks positive.

The council is working to develop a “masterplan” for tourism in the region, aimed at optimising the value of tourism and mitigating the impacts of unplanned growth.

“Work is almost complete on a destination management framework which is focussed on ensuring that the demands of the visitor economy achieve the right balance so that the residents of Central Otago are happy and continue to welcome visitors.

“We have always taken the view the visitors must enrich the people and place of Central Otago, and so we are really excited to share what that will look like in the coming months.”

Independent canvassing of visitors to the region reaffirms operators in the industry are doing a good job.

Research undertaken in the latter half of last year shows visitors’ expectations are exceeded when they visit Central Otago, and it has strong appeal for short breaks and holidays.

The research highlights the success of the region is in its authentic experiences, people and environment.

“The future for Central Otago looks positive with so many New Zealanders discovering how special this place is,” Ms Jacobs says.

“We know they will be back and encouraging their friends and family to visit too.” 

Main image: Cromwell Heritage Precinct and markets overlooking Lake Dunstan (Will Nelson/Tourism Central Otago).

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