I had cause to visit Rotorua on business earlier this week and I was struck by the large number of tourists in the city.
For many countries - including our own - recession is still pretty thick in the air and a lot of us are still watching what we spend. Clearly nobody told all the international visitors at my hotel. They were everywhere and from everywhere. When I was checking in, there was a tour party of more than 20 Koreans making their way up to their rooms.
On Monday night, I went out for dinner and was very surprised to find the restaurant full. On a Monday night? At first I thought they were locals, but I soon caught the distinctive American twang from two large tables of diners. The one thing the American tourists and the visitors from Korea had in common was they obviously had more than a few dollars to spend.
I drove past a number of hotels and tourist attractions in the city and each place had a number of large buses outside. It just shows that tourists are coming to New Zealand and they have cash to spend. Thanks to movies like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, New Zealand has got a reputation as a holiday destination.
The question: is are the tourists only going to Rotorua and the other more fashionable tourist cities? Are we getting our fair share?
I think the cruise ships have done wonders for Napier and you can sense the hustle and bustle when one of them is in port. Likewise, the Food and Wine Classic was a good event to showcase our produce, but we can do more.
Some would argue that places like Rotorua and Taupo have it easy because they are natural tourist attractions, but that would be ignoring all we have to offer. The sooner we can tempt the tourists further south, or even up from Wellington, the better.
What we need is a steady stream of international tourists throughout the year. Our mud may not bubble and our water may not shoot out of the ground, but the natural beauty of the area and the many attractions should be enough. Maybe we all need to become promoters for Hawke's Bay. We need to continually come up with innovative ways of marketing our region.
We have some of the best wineries in the world and there are also some amazing cycle trails. Napier is Art Deco city and the gannet colony is worth a visit.
It should get to a point when we get used to the sight of tourist buses and tourist accents. The welcome sign has always been there, we just need to make it a bit bigger.