Rena-hit business looking for a better summer

By James Fuller

Tauranga's fishing charter businesses and accommodation providers are predicting improved summers after last year's Rena-affected season.

When the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef on October 5 last year the impact rippled out into the Bay of Plenty's business community. Two sectors affected were fishing and accommodation. Both are now looking forward to better times.

Raewyn Ensor's family-run Blue Ocean Charters has been in business for 26 years. The company operates three boats, the Ratahi, Te Kuia and Ohorere.

"From the time the Rena happened we lost a lot of business. We actually run three boats and still haven't got enough work for all three of them. When the Rena went on the rocks we had 500 people booked between then and Christmas and they all just panicked and wa===nted their money back immediately. So we sent two boats up to Whangamata and ran them out of there for last summer. The one here wasn't as busy as it would normally have been either."

Mrs Ensor said two-thirds of the company's normal business dropped away. "Basically we had to try to set up another business somewhere else. We were fortunate we could do that.

"We've brought one boat back so we've got two boats here now. But we're still going to have to leave one boat out of town because we haven't got the forward bookings for it. It may take another few years for numbers to get back up to pre-Rena times again."

Mrs Ensor said the fishing had inadvertently been helped by the Rena. "The fishing has been amazing. A lot of people couldn't go fishing for a long time so it gave the fish stocks a chance to build up. There was a big exclusion zone around the area and it gave stocks a chance to recuperate. Right at this moment the fishing isn't great but that's just seasonal. Certainly up to the last month the fishing has been amazing."

She said the company had dropped prices to levels they were charging a decade ago to increase angler numbers.

Brett Keller, owner/operator of Tauranga Marine Charters, said his business had also suffered after Rena ran aground.

"It impacted a lot last year and this year's going to be better for sure. I'd say business dropped by at least 50 per cent last year, post-Rena. But we're certainly looking a bit better at this stage."

However, he scoffed at talk the Rena had helped lift fish stocks. "There's been an awful lot of rubbish spoken. It's one boat on a rock in the middle of nowhere, how is that going to affect anything else? The only impact would be the area immediately around it when they open that up. The fishing might be better there but that's because nobody's fished there for over a year. But for the rest of the Bay of Plenty it's had no affect whatsoever.

"It's different weather patterns, where the currents are coming from and where the food is coming from, that's what creates the good years and the lean years. Fish basically eat and procreate - they don't care about the Rena. They had all that stuff about toxins being released but you've got the whole Pacific Ocean around it for that stuff to dilute into.

"It had an impact on us, the fishermen, because we couldn't fish a lot of areas, there were exclusion zones. That's what made it hard. Once they opened up that initial exclusion zone inside Motiti, Rena became a non-event."

Mr Keller, who has been operating his boat the MV Manutere for 12 years, was confident of better times ahead.

"Every year's different but at the moment there's more fish around."

In the accommodation sector the region's campsites and moteliers are primed for a good summer.

Greg Davidson, at Cosy Corner Holiday Park, Mount Maunganui, said he had remained upbeat throughout the Rena fallout.

"We stayed positive throughout the whole thing, telling people there's more to do in the Bay of Plenty than just go to the beach. Putting out that positive message."

That positivity didn't help visitor numbers for Labour Weekend 2011. However, Mr Davidson said that was the fault of a sporting tournament.

"The Rugby World Cup hit the domestic market pretty hard, people were spending their money on that, and the weather was really bad last summer as well. Obviously, the negative media coverage around Rena didn't help either. Labour Day Weekend last year the park had just one cabin and one campsite booked. This Labour Day Weekend it was 80 per cent full."

Mr Davidson said his campsite was full for New Year but had spaces in January. However, he was confident they would enjoy high occupancy rates throughout the summer.

"Looking at the books we've been 10 per cent up every month since March so we're hoping that will continue."

Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park manager Mark Hales said bookings were going well for the peak summer season.

"We're full over the Christmas/New Year period and any available gaps, from around January 7, are slowly being taken up which is great."

Mr Hales said his holiday park, which has 234 sites including seven cabins, had suffered last Labour Weekend.

"Labour Weekend last year we had some cancellations because that wasn't long after the Rena. I think that was largely due to the media saying there was oil on all the beaches, which we didn't really have up here, it was more down Papamoa way. We weren't full this year but we did an awful lot better than last Labour Weekend."

Mr Hales said bookings had now returned to pre-Rena levels.

Tauranga Motel Association president Gail Fagan said her business, the Bay Palm Motel in Mount Maunganui, was 10 to 20 per cent down over the year. The Rena coverage had been partially responsible.

"Being a beach motel - and the beaches were supposedly not in good condition - that had an impact. Our beach was fine so it was frustrating."

However, Mrs Fagan was positive about the upcoming summer.

"Bookings for Christmas and New Year are looking pretty good. The indications are good for the summer, so we're just hoping for a bit better weather than last year."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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