The Bay of Plenty's tourism industry is bleeding and a thriving domestic tourism market is the only short term band-aid. Journalist Kelly Makiha looks at how many New Zealanders come to the Coastal Bay of Plenty region each year and asks those in the industry - can we survive?
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Tauranga and other coastal Bay of Plenty regions have the potential to bounce back better than expected if they can lure the big-spending Kiwis who would have travelled overseas if not for Covid-19.
The city's wounded visitor industry is busy preparing for the regional travel restrictions to drop, and when they do, the industry hopes the floodgates to Coastal Bay of Plenty will open.
With Kiwis unable, and potentially unwilling, to travel overseas for a while, the Bay of Plenty's visitor industry will be doing its best to woo domestic travellers to Tauranga, Western Bay and Whakatane districts.
But while some are preparing to re-model to make themselves more appealing to domestic travellers, others fear they might have to shut up shop until international visitors and cruise ships come back.
Figures show New Zealanders spend about $10 billion every year on overseas travel. Domestic visitors are already the Coastal Bay of Plenty's most significant market, spending $870 million to the year ending January 2020, making up 77.6 per cent of the Coastal Bay of Plenty's total visitor spend of $1.121 billion, according to Tourism Bay of Plenty figures.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said as well as being close to Auckland, the Waikato and other central North Island towns, the strength of the domestic market came from being a place Kiwis loved to go to on holiday.
"The country's best beaches, outstanding marine life, a connection to nature through endless tracks to explore and a strong foodie scene from the avocados grown and sold in honesty boxes to the delicious food served in our cafes and restaurants. We know Kiwis love to holiday here and have done through many generations."
She said when the time was right, it was hoped New Zealanders would come back.
She said Tourism Bay of Plenty was focused on a local campaign at the moment and when it was safe to do so, it would roll out a national domestic campaign.
"We're also maintaining our brand presence in key international markets to ensure we are still being considered by consumers when border restrictions allow."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said accommodation, eatery and hospitality operators could potentially work together to provide a bundle offering for domestic tourists.
"It would also make sense for Tauranga and Rotorua regions to market together to elongate people's stay in the wider Bay of Plenty."
To capture the domestic market, businesses needed to have an extensive communications plan, he said.
"They will need to let their customers know that they're open and to ask them to help spread their message. They will need to ensure staff know what to do and what is expected of them. Businesses will also need to secure their supply chain as it will take a while to reboot after lockdown finishes."
Cowley said Tauranga's closeness with Auckland was a bonus.
"Tauranga is located within four hours' drive of half of New Zealand's population. We are a very accessible, affordable and attractive destination for Kiwis to unwind after a stressful period."
Waimarino Adventure Park director Blair Anderson said up to 90 per cent of its adventure park business was domestic visitors and he was cautiously optimistic this year's summer period would survive.
"But we have to look at how financially committed people are feeling because it will be very different. Businesses are struggling and are going through tough times."
He said their education side, including after school care, had dropped off completely but he hoped that would bounce back once schools re-opened.
Anderson said the business was just starting to pick up international visitors, enough so that before the coronavirus outbreak it was looking like they could stay open this winter.
He had a request for the community and that was for them to return the favours they had given over the years, with donations to different school projects and community organisations.
"People can help us by spending money in the region. Remember how long we have been around, we are part of this community. Will we disappear? Hell no. Waimarino will be around a lot longer. The heart here still beats for the community."
He described planning for the future like going back in time.
"We built it up over the years, so we will go back and revisit what we did and let's see how fast we can crank it up by summer."
Mount Classic Tours owner Ian Holroyd said his business didn't cater for domestic travellers as he transported mainly cruise ship passengers and offered guided tours around the region.
"Kiwis going on holiday don't want transport or a guided tour service."
He said he had gone from running his tour and transport company with 40 vehicles and 60 staff to nothing.
He had managed to pick up extra work delivering groceries for New World which was temporarily keeping nine staff members employed.
He said many of his coach tour colleagues were simply parking up their businesses for a year or two until the market returned.
While he wasn't too sure what would happen yet to his business, he admitted times were tough.
He was making the heartbreaking call of laying off staff and not re-employing others on casual contracts because he didn't think the market would return until at least October next year.
"I've gone from a business turning over $3.5 million dollars to a few thousand a year. It's not good news I'm afraid but we are above ground and the sun is shining and that's all we can hope for right now."