Editorial: Tourism body must do Bay's beauty justice

By Annemarie Quill

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What is your perfect Saturday?

Trekking through rock formations in the dry wilderness of the Far North, basking in the basalt, and gazing at the fluting?

Or is your type of flute filled with bubbles, perched under a sunshade on Mount Main Beach.

While the kids play in the surf, you watch the sunset and chow down local scallops from a waterfront eatery.

The latter sounds way more appealing.

But as Julia Proverbs reports today, the results of AA Tourism's 102 Must-Do for Kiwis ranks Mount Maunganui at just 37, behind the above mentioned Northland Wairere Boulders, and many other spots.

The Bay's smelly neighbour, Rotorua, ranks predictably high on the list, with its Polynesian Spa at number two. Polynesian Spa is superb.

But I wouldn't go so far as describing it as the second best place in the country.

In my view, spots that rank high are there not on merit, but on the marketing prowess of their respective tourist organisations.

My inbox is filled with messages from Destination Rotorua. I have never heard from Tourism Bay of Plenty.

This week, reporter James Fuller visited the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas with its thousands of passengers.

He told me most of them disembarked straight on to buses heading out of town.

In my view, Tauranga is the best place in New Zealand to live - and visit.

With its perfect balance of being big enough to lose yourself in, but cosy enough for community, Tauranga is a winner against sprawling Auckland, naval-gazing and dated Welly, landlocked Hamilton, and shaky Christchurch.

We've got the best climate, beaches, surfing, walks, islands, waterfalls, dolphin watching, stand-up paddle boarding, Classic Flyers, hot pools, Matakana Island, Waimarino, Kiwi 360, the new TECT Arena, fab restaurants, cafes and shops, the art gallery.

A thriving arts scene, theatres, great local musicians, farmers' markets, the awesome Little Big Markets, Katikati food trail. The list goes on.

In the recent New Zealand issue of international guide Lonely Planet, Tauranga was described as "as Riviera as New Zealand gets" with "its beach-seeking holidaymakers who have seen the old workhorse reborn as a show pony" ... "restaurants, bars line the revamped waterfront, fancy hotels rise high and the once sleepy burbs of Mount Maunganui and Papamoa have woken up to a new prosperity".

Bay of Plenty Tourism boss Rhys Arrowsmith may dismiss the AA results as "a clever social media campaign" but that doesn't dilute their impact, nor his duty to react to them.

The attractions that he has in development - the Comvita visitor centre and a fighter jet, and the Blow Karts he describes as "mind blowing" - don't do it for me. Let's hope they attract visitors.

Julia's report says tourism is worth $491 million in economic benefit to the Bay of Plenty region and employs 10 per cent of the local population.

But the economic value of the visitor industry could be maximised by so much more.

It is a fair question to ask exactly what the people who get paid to promote us, Tourism Bay of Plenty, are doing.

At the beginning of the year, we reported that Tauranga City Council contributed $775,000 to Tourism Bay of Plenty each year while Western Bay of Plenty District Council put in $169,000.

Tauranga City Council gives $285,000 to Tourism Bay of Plenty to provide visitor information services, including brochures, but the i-Site at the Mount has been closed, to the fury of local tourist operators.

The council too is not without blame - failing to stump up extra money for marketing the region following Rena, and for years of poor city planning which has disconnected Tauranga from its best asset, the water.

Tourism Bay of Plenty's slogan "It's not called the Bay of Plenty for nothing" is a clumsy start.

If Northland can attract streams of visitors to some dry old rocks in the middle of nowhere, then with all we have to offer, Tourism Bay of Plenty's job should be easy.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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