Room to innovate in Tauranga tourism

By Carmen Hall

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FUN FOR VISITORS: Cruise Tours Tauranga directors Susanna Shelton (left) and Karen Conroy launched a food tour earlier this year to complement other operations, and say it is targeted at both the local and international markets. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
FUN FOR VISITORS: Cruise Tours Tauranga directors Susanna Shelton (left) and Karen Conroy launched a food tour earlier this year to complement other operations, and say it is targeted at both the local and international markets. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

Tauranga's tourism market has scope for new businesses but Bay leaders are divided about what new opportunities exist.

Tourism was highlighted in Westpac's latest regional roundup as one of the key driver behind the Bay's economic confidence topping the country for the fifth quarter in a row. The Western Bay also had its biggest cruise ship season this year with nearly 160,000 passengers arriving in Tauranga.

Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said there was potential for the development of additional tourism-related businesses. However, she said it was hard to tell without more insight from research what these should or could be "to the point where we have a confident, investable strategy".

Tourism Bay of Plenty was working on the very early stages of a Tourism Regional Growth Strategy with local and central government as well as economic development agencies.

"The outcome of this is intended to support the development of tourism product while encouraging better collaboration locally and regionally."

On Thursday, the Bay of Plenty was named as one of the four areas in New Zealand to benefit from a $44 million Government funding boost for the Regional Growth Programme. According to Bay Connections, an action plan was launched in October but a progress update was pending.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said he was keen to see more attractions that gave a sense of local history and there could be opportunities for adventure-type tourism.

"Part of Tauranga's problem is an image one, and perhaps a feeling that central Tauranga, in particular, is not as well laid-out or signposted for tourists as it could be," he said. "Tourism is a sector that the chamber has identified as a strong potential driver for our local economy. I think there is scope for more things beyond shops and cafes for tourists to experience."

Priority One strategic projects manager Greg Simmonds said there had been significant growth in tourist numbers in recent years.

"With this growth, the market demand for quality tourism product, particularly from international visitors, is likely to have grown, especially in areas like authentic Maori cultural offerings."

Cruise Tours Tauranga director Karen Conroy said it had doubled "the number of passengers on tours for the last three years". That growth was "an indication of the number of people coming through on cruise ships wanting to do tours with local operators", she said.

The company had diversified to complement its sightseeing cycling tours and launched a Food Tour in 2014 that could attract more visitors, both of local and international origin.

"I think there is a lot of growth available in food tours, it's a bit trendy so we are looking forward to growing that food tourism. International visitors love it as they get to see the countryside, learn about the people and culture, and meet some of our food heroes."

Concepts included a Field to Fork tour where they visited producers and had a meal at a country location, she said

We are pretty excited ... it's an evolving project. We are trying to focus on the product we have to attract the local domestic market, and we think we can."

She hoped the Tourism Regional Growth Strategy would address how to get more visitors to Tauranga.

Shore Trips and Tours owner Ian Holroyd said its statistics showed business was 87 per cent higher than last year. It was also levering off the cruise ships and offered trips to Hobbiton and Rotorua, he said.

However, Mr Holroyd said Tauranga was renowned as a place to chill out with its laidback lifestyle including the beach, boating, fishing and walks.

Unfortunately that was not something short-duration holidaymakers wanted to do but there was potential regarding the independent travellers who stayed for a few months, he said.

Meanwhile "the China market is growing hugely in New Zealand and perhaps we can pick up on that".

Flip-Out manager Elicia Andrews said the business opened two weeks ago and, in her view, there were opportunities for other adventure-styled businesses in the city. However she questioned whether tourist activities were affordable - "a lot of activities around here are based for tourists rather than locals and that is where they go wrong".

- Bay of Plenty Times

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