Attacks on tourists in Bay seen as 'bad image'

By Genevieve Helliwell

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A local tourism operator fears crime against visitors to the Bay of Plenty could have dire consequences on an industry which injects millions of dollars into the local economy each year.

Ash Rawson, of Blokart Recreation Park in Papamoa, said if tourists stopped visiting the Bay, the effects would be disastrous for the adventure business and other tourism operators.

His concern follows the recent assault and robbery of two French hitch-hikers on State Highway 2, near the Welcome Bay Rd intersection.

In another case, a Tauranga man was last week sentenced to eight-and-a-half years jail for kidnapping and sexually violating a French woman.

Mr Rawson said about 40 per cent of the adventure business came from domestic and international tourists.

"We definitely rely on tourists otherwise we wouldn't be in business, it's a simple as that," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"We are certainly concerned about all of this ... it would have disastrous effects if the cultural perception of the Bay were distorted and it would certainly affect us and other tourist operators in the Bay."

Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Rhys Arrowsmith said he felt for the victims and was sorry to see this type of crime happen in what was seen as one of the safest regions in New Zealand.

"No region in New Zealand likes to see this happen and we are disgusted by the action of this small element of society," he said.

He did not think the incidents would have a lasting impact.

"I don't think it's a case of long term, we need to ensure now that this is not what we will tolerate in our region, or New Zealand. Bay of Plenty Tourism, alongside of the authorities, will be working hard to better educate tourists on wise transport choices when moving from region to region," he said.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the number of serious crimes in recent weeks was concerning but it was important to put it in context in that the number of serious crimes in the Western Bay had decreased in recent years.

"That could be why when see these events, we're more surprised than we used to be," he said.

"I don't think we should be complacent, and it's important we treat cases like the hitch-hiking assault very seriously, but I don't believe these isolated events themselves will have a significant flow-on effect. It's only if they become a trend then I think we have to worry."

New Zealand First list MP Brendan Horan was "disgusted" by the incidents which he said gave the region a "bad image".

"These crimes against tourists were unheard of 10 to 20 years ago, when New Zealand had a sense of pride, family and self," he said.

"Particularly now with social media, it's disturbing how news can spread across the world like wildfire and we can't afford that to happen."

Mr Horan said New Zealand's reputation of being a safe place to visit was being jeopardised by the actions of "people with low morals".

"[Serious crimes] are tragic and they do have dire consequences and effects on tourism ... and seeing these things happening in New Zealand is abhorrent."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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