Auckland is more than big city lights

Nature lovers will soon be taking guided walks on Rangitoto and its adjoining neighbour Motutapu, home to recently released brown kiwis.
Nature lovers will soon be taking guided walks on Rangitoto and its adjoining neighbour Motutapu, home to recently released brown kiwis.

The top Australasian travel destination. The best two visitor experiences in New Zealand. A finalist in an international Sport City award. A venue for the World Triathlon Series for the next four years. The accolades for Auckland's can-do attitude have come thick and fast.

Auckland was determined that the organisation, and staging, of Rugby World Cup 2011 would not be a one-off and there would be legacy benefits. The council etched into its 30-year plan that Auckland would be a true international destination, and experience, for tourism and events. Over the past month, Auckland was named:

A Sport City of the Year finalist in the International Sports Event Management awards, alongside Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, London, Manchester and Melbourne. The winner will be announced, in London, on Friday (NZ time).

Australasia's top destination at the 2012 World Travel Awards, heading off Sydney, Whitsunday Islands, Bora Bora and the Yasawa Islands. The Grand Final to find the global winner is in New Delhi on December 12.

Home to New Zealand's top two visitor experiences - Auckland Harbour/Hauraki Gulf and urban Auckland including newly-refurbished Britomart and Wynyard Quarter - as recorded in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel Guide.

Auckland successfully staged the Barfoot and Thompson-sponsored Grand Final of the World Triathlon Series over Labour Weekend, and the International Triathlon Union wasted little time in naming the challenging inner-city course as a series stop-off for the next four years.

Auckland will open the world circuit next April.

Though Auckland's international reputation as a sporting and visitor destination has risen dramatically, the city hasn't overlooked its domestic market.

In September Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) launched its first domestic tourism campaign in a decade. The second round of the campaign, showcasing the depth and breadth of Auckland's tourist offering, is planned for March/April next year, and overall the campaign is aimed at getting Kiwis "to visit more, stay longer and spend more". Last year Auckland had 10.3 million domestic visitors, but only 4.3 million stayed for more than one night.

Auckland has long been known as the gateway to the country, with the international airport receiving 1.9 million, or 75 per cent, of the 2.6 million overseas tourists a year. Traditionally, many haven't stayed long in Auckland, but that is starting to change. Total guest nights for the year ending May 2012 increased 7.5 per cent to 6.35 million compared with a national fall of 0.5 per cent to 31.67 million. The average length of stay in Auckland increased slightly from 2 to 2.03 nights.

An additional one night's stay in Auckland for 1.9 million visitors, spending an average $250, would result in an immediate windfall of $475 million in a year for the local economy.

So, is the gateway tag for Auckland out of date? Jason Hill, manager tourism at Ateed, says the latest awards "are for best destination and best visitor experiences - they don't say anything about being a gateway.

"There is a new face to Auckland and the way we are starting to promote it is having an effect on travel agents and visitors' impressions," Hill says. "We have the uniqueness of the world's largest Polynesian city, rich in Maori, Pasifika and other cultures. We have the sophistication of big city life with good quality accommodation, superb dining and bars, and an array of great shopping.

"Within minutes of downtown you can be walking on to a marae, peering into a volcanic cone, strolling through a rainforest or on a golden sandy beach, and take thrilling jetboat or America's Cup yacht rides."

Hill says the domestic campaign was aimed at changing New Zealanders' perception about Auckland. "They come to Auckland for the big lights, an event or concert and a game of rugby. We want to give them ideas they haven't thought about, and have them stay an extra night."

Ateed, in conjunction with DoC and local iwi, is planning a new tourist offering - a one or two-day walk on Rangitoto and Motutapu islands.

Hill says DoC has nine great walks and "we want this one to be the 10th."

The plan is for a local iwi guide to accompany the visitors and tell them the story of the islands, from pre-European to modern times.

"Standing on a 700-year-old maunga and volcano, and taking in the unique flora and fauna and the views back to Auckland city will be second to none.

"Nowhere else do you have this combination and variety."

Welcome visitors

Auckland Council and Ateed are determined to double the city's annual tourism earnings of $3.3 billion in 2010 to $6 billion within the next decade. This would double international visitor receipts to $4 billion by 2021, and domestic spending from $1.37 billion to $2 billion.

- NZ Herald

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