As part of a series examining the Bay of Plenty's rapid population growth, Scott K MacLeod finds shop owners on the crest of a spending boom.

Bay of Plenty shops and restaurants are riding a bumper wave of spending, with sales here growing more than twice as fast as in the rest of the country.

The surge comes as the busy Christmas season looms, promising to send tills ringing at an even greater rate.

The latest Marketview figures showed electronic card retail spending in the year to September grew in value by 7.4 per cent in Tauranga and 6.7 per cent in the wider Bay of Plenty. Those figures were more than twice as healthy as the national figure, which was up 2.7 per cent.

Some places, including a new Mount Maunganui cafe below, have experienced customer numbers increasing by 50 per cent.

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Retailers said there was more to the growth than mere population increase, with marketing and an improved "shopping experience" also playing a part. Insiders are confident that the boom will continue for some time. The hospitality industry is also reporting a surge in sales, with spending jumping from $365 million last year to $428 million this year.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said that, apart from the growth in population and construction, low interest rates on mortgages gave shoppers the confidence to spend.

"From car sales to consumer goods, it's been something of a bonanza for them," he said. "Even with the dairy sector, which has been in a slump this year, there are signs that things are starting to pick up."

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said shoppers had the confidence to spend. Photo/File
Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said shoppers had the confidence to spend. Photo/File

Mount Maunganui Mainstreet manager Ingrid Fleming said retailers in her area were emerging from their busiest-ever winter. Among other factors, marketing had encouraged cruise ship passengers to spend at the Mount and there had been a drive to improve the "experience" of shopping.

"It's terrific," she said. "It's a lot busier on the street than it ever has been."

Mainstreet Tauranga spokesperson Sally Cooke said downtown city retailers had noticed an increase in foot traffic despite the challenge of competing with online stores.

"We're delighted and hope it continues, particularly with Christmas coming up."

The mood at the Bay Hospitality Awards on November 27 was upbeat, with one restaurateur describing optimism as the best in 20 years.

The last few months we've had six new staff - a new barista and people to run our food and coffees - because of how busy we are.

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Bay of Plenty Restaurant Association president Andrew Targett said the traditional drop in business over winter had been short-lived and the industry had definitely lifted. The most recent figures he had seen showed an increase of more than 9 per cent in one year.

"It's huge," he said. "The vibe in the hospitality business is very optimistic, and we're looking forward to a great summer."

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the figures confirmed that the local economy was thriving. He "sensed" that the growth would continue "for quite some time".

Busy Mount cafe prepares for bumper summer

In the year that Jasmine Mackay has been working at the Bach cafe in Mount Maunganui, she's seen customer numbers jump by 50 per cent.

"It's a lot busier than it used to be," the 19-year-old said yesterday. "And catering has picked up massively, too."

Miss Mackay's grandmother, Colleen Heath, and her partner, Michael Smith, opened the cafe in November 2015 with three staff in the kitchen and six staff "out front". Those numbers have jumped to five and eight, respectively.

The cafe's growth reflects a surge in retail and restaurant spending throughout Tauranga and the wider Bay region. The latest figures show that the Bay's hospitality industry has reaped $428 million in the past year, up from less than $300 million five years ago.

Miss Mackay, a barista, said cruise ship passengers had contributed to the growth at her cafe.

"The last few months we've had six new staff - a new barista and people to run our food and coffees - because of how busy we are."

She expected an even busier summer.

One reason for the increase was the number of people coming in from cruise ships, she said.

Jasmine Mackay, 19, Barista at the Bach Cafe Mount Maunganui. Photo/Andrew Warner
Jasmine Mackay, 19, Barista at the Bach Cafe Mount Maunganui. Photo/Andrew Warner

Retail Card Spending

Tauranga, current year: $457 million
Tauranga, previous year: $423 million
Tauranga: up 7.4 per cent in one year
Bay of Plenty: up 6.7 per cent in one year