Bumper summer for tourism

By John Maslin

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ON A ROLL: Whanganui's Vintage Weekend - one of the events that pulls in visitors.
ON A ROLL: Whanganui's Vintage Weekend - one of the events that pulls in visitors.

It's been a bumper summer for Whanganui's visitor industry, capping off a remarkable unbroken period of growth for the district which now stretches back for two years.

And that growth has injected nearly $9 million into the district's economy.

Visit Whanganui, the district council's promotions and marketing arm, said there had been 24 consecutive months of monthly growth in commercial visitor nights.

Lyn Cheyne, Whanganui and Partners promotion and marketing manager, said this showed the long-term trend for Whanganui and underscored the effectiveness of current advertising and promotional campaigns.

"In actual numbers we have moved from about 167,000 commercial guest nights at the end of December 2013 to 192,000 nights at the end of December last year," Ms Cheyne said.

"And in dollars, the 6.5 per cent growth over that period is estimated to be an additional $8.7 million into Whanganui's economy."

These increases have come from more domestic and international visitors to Whanganui.

Domestic visitors are Kiwis making Whanganui their port of call. These statistics do not include motorhome, bed and breakfast, freedom campers, vacation homes or visitors staying with friends and family.

Ms Cheyne said they had signed up to Qrious Voyager, a monthly tourism report that captures additional information via anonymous mobile phone movements.

"The first report was available last Thursday and shows we've had at least five times the visitors compared to previous commercial reports."

She said Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment commercial accommodation monitor reports for December last year registered about 11,500 guest nights in commercial accommodation in Whanganui.

But tracking mobile phone movements, the figure for the same month was over 96,000, which was eight times as much. Ms Cheyne said that was probably high as a result of the Suzuki Series Cemetery Circuit motorcycle event.

"The new data also shows visitors are staying an average across all visitors of almost three days in the district."

The increasing visitor numbers brought a corresponding increase in spending as well. That was up 12.5 per cent for the year ending December compared to same period in 2014. And domestic visitors' spending was up 2.7 per cent over the same period.

"Both these figures are higher than the national average while the international spend is higher than all other districts in the region, with the exception of the Manawatu district," she said.

Rory Smith, owner of Tamara Travellers Lodge on Somme Parade, had been in the business in Whanganui for more than two decades and said the visitor industry had experienced a "great summer".

"It's been very busy every weekend - it's the sort of business that the big boys experience in bigger centres," Mr Smith said.

Many visitors were arriving to attend a variety of events which he said were "gold mines" for the tourism business.

The increasing numbers had come at time when more accommodation providers had started up in the city, but he said his lodge had got around that by shifting its market focus a little.

"We've made some cosmetic changes to our place, which we see as a way of getting around the opposition."

He had noticed a change of the market demographic staying at backpackers as well, with more baby-boomers booking in.

But Mr Smith said this summer they had catered for mainly overseas visitors. "I'd say about 70 per cent of our visitors were from overseas. But overall it's been very gratifying, very pleasing for us.

"And the visitors are staying a smidgen longer than they used to," he said.

"A lot of them are on pretty rigid timetables so they can't opt to extend their stays, but a lot more are staying longer and that means Whanganui's marketing message is getting out there."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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