It could be five years before Waikato’s tourism sector rebounds to pre-Covid-19 lockdown levels, Waipā District Council’s Finance and Corporate Committee has been told.
But Waipā’s strategic geographic location, natural environment and world-class event venues give it a “stronger position” to recover from than many other places.
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson told the committee tourism will look different post lockdown.
The organisation, based at Hamilton Airport, is Waikato’s regional tourism organisation – or RTO. Its role is to increase Waikato’s domestic and international visitor numbers and major events and conventions.
Waikato is the country’s fifth largest region for visitor spend – up to January, visitor spend was annually injecting $1.58b into the regional economy.
Waipā’s annual visitor spend was $194m – $157m from domestic visitors, $38m from international travellers.
Lockdown was forcing a tourism sector rethink.
“It’s more than a shock, it’s a circuit breaker for us all to look around, reimagine the tourism sector and plan how we’ll do business differently going forward,” Mr Dawson said.
Tourism was initially affected in January when international group travel from China abruptly halted.
That was Waikato’s fourth biggest international tourism market – and restoring the region’s pre-lockdown international travel numbers was a “long burn over years”.
Mr Dawson said 2.5 million New Zealanders live in a three-hour radius of Waikato and a campaign to capture that market is being planned.
“It’s more than a shock, it’s a circuit breaker for us all to look around, reimagine the tourism sector and plan how we’ll do business differently going forward.”
In Mighty Local, the “first campaign off the starting blocks”, the RTO is working with regional economic development agency Te Waka, partnering with Waikato Councils, chambers of commerce, i-SITEs and others in developing a campaign telling people about essential service operators.
He said Hamilton & Waikato Tourism would work with several other organisations to “mitigate, restart and reimagine” fresh life into tourism.
A gradual two-year, four stage plan – made up of respective three-month long hyper-local and regional recovery efforts and year-long domestic and international recovery focusses – is planned.
Mr Dawson said tourism was one of the first sectors severely impacted, so they had “head space to move from response to re-imagination”.
Committee chair councillor Andrew Brown praised Hamilton & Waikato Tourism’s efforts.
“That’s a fantastic response to what must have been a massive shock to the industry.”