The attack on two French tourists threatens to stall a recent resurgence of overseas visitors hitch-hiking, a industry operator says.
Two 21-year-old backpackers hitch-hiking from Mt Maunganui to Rotorua on Saturday were driven to a disused service station, beaten up and robbed of their passports, money and possessions.
Police have received calls from people offering support to the Frenchmen but have not had any tips about the identity of the attackers.
The robbery has put the safety of hitch-hiking back in the spotlight.
Last month, the Czech Ambassador to New Zealand warned against hitch-hiking here after a tourist from the republic was murdered.
Dagmar Pytlickova, 31, is believed to have been hitch-hiking when picked up by Jason Frandi of Waimate, 50km south of Timaru.
It is thought he then sexually assaulted her and cut her throat before slashing his own wrist.
Yesterday, Mark Dumble, the director of the BBH network of 290 hostels with about 11,000 backpacker beds, said his advice to visitors was that hitch-hiking was relatively safe.
Standard rules such as travelling in pairs, dressing sensibly and first asking where the driver is going should be followed, he said.
"The fallout [from the attack on the French tourists] will go on from this. That's unfortunate because it can be a very positive experience.
"Hitching is starting to stage a revival ... With the way the economy is, this last summer particularly there has been a noticeable increase in foreign travellers on the side of the road."
One BBH member, Sunseeker Lodge in Whangaroa in the Far North, asks guests to leave details of the place they are thumbing a lift to, and to confirm their safe arrival.
According to the Government's International Visitors Survey, about 13,000 of the 2.6 million a year hitch-hike during their stay.
But Mr Dumble said that when he opened the first custom-built backpackers, Rainbow Lodge in Taupo, in 1984, it was not uncommon for all 30 guests to be hitch-hikers.
He said murders of hitch-hikers, the drastic reduction in the cost of transport and the growth of backpacker bus lines meant fewer were hitching lifts.
Backpackers spoken to by the Herald yesterday said incidents such as the bashing of the French tourists would not put them off hitch-hiking.
Inconvenience and the unaffordability of transport were cited as bigger reasons not to hitch-hike.
"I would definitely do it here. And I would not do it back home," said Warren Campo, 28, of New Orleans, in the United States.
Mr Campo said friends had hitch-hiked all over New Zealand and raved about the experience.
Erin Goosman, 21, and Erin Calhoun, 20, said they would consider hitch-hiking here but never by themselves.
"I would never do it in America. But I would consider it in New Zealand," said Ms Goosman, visiting from Ohio in the United States.
- additional reporting: APNZBy Nicholas Jones Email Nicholas