Tourists flock to Northland for winter fest

By Peter de Graaf

Russell's Birdman Festival pumped as much business into the town as a busy summer weekend, although one hotel owner says the rewards are only as good as the effort businesses are willing to put in.

Up to 5000 people crowded the Bay of Islands town for the three-day festival on July 19-21, founded seven years ago to inject life - and customers - into a usually quiet time of year.

Tracey Taylor of Sally's Restaurant said she had served 200 lunches on Saturday, making it busier than last year.

"It's just like a summer's day, but in the middle of winter," Ms Taylor said.

However, the busiest day for Sally's was Sunday, when the restaurant organised events such as a cake-decorating competition and children's games on the beach.

Duke of Marlborough Hotel co-owner Riki Kinnaird said all 25 rooms were booked and the restaurant and bar were as busy as in the peak three weeks of summer. The tavern was similarly busy after Saturday night's prizegiving.

The festival did, however, involve a lot of preparation, marketing and hard work, especially with winter staffing levels.

"It's like the Rugby World Cup. Just because there's 5000 people in town doesn't mean you make money. You've got to get your name out there and use it," Mr Kinnaird said.

Some business owners complained they made nothing from the festival, but those who didn't benefit were generally the businesses that did not get involved.

The Duke's involvement was also for the "greater good" because the event would encourage people to keep coming back to Russell.

People were increasingly travelling from Whangarei and Auckland for the three-day festival. Fifteen people in the Duke's Elvis entry in the Birdman jump, for example, came up especially from Auckland with their families to take part.

The only criticism they had was that the event could be better promoted in Auckland, which was something the Birdman organisers were working on, he said.

Russell will also get international tourism exposure after a crew from a Japanese travel-comedy show filmed the Birdman jump. Presenter Ayako Imoto competed as a flying Ninja.

- Northern Advocate

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