OPINION: School holidays are always valuable to domestic tourism, however this year, they could very well be a game-changer for many of our local operators.

The current school holidays are the first period of consolidated travel since New Zealand moved into lockdown in late March, and gratefully, many families are choosing to spend their time, and their money, in Hawke's Bay.

New data from Wellington outfit Dot Loves Data and Eftpos New Zealand shows a marked increase in consumer spend right across Hawke's Bay.

When compared to the same day last year, Eftpos New Zealand debit and credit card transactions from July 7, 2020, were up by 14.1 per cent in Napier; 4.9 per cent in Hastings; 12.2 per cent in Central Hawke's Bay; and 7.1 per cent in Wairoa. Nationwide, growth in consumer spend during the same period stalled at just 2.1 per cent.

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Of course, this is full consumer spend and therefore captures expenditure from our local population as well. However, when you add this to operator data and anecdotal reports, the resulting picture is cautiously optimistic.

Dot Loves Data has labelled this the "halo effect", where holiday destinations less than a four-hour drive away from large cities are doing well, despite the broader New Zealand picture being less optimistic.

The good news is that our region's operators seem to concur, with many seeing an increase in visitors during the first week of the school holiday period.

Kennedy Park manager David Aflallo reports that school holiday bookings have increased from the same holiday period in 2019, with families travelling from Wellington, Wairarapa, Kāpiti Coast and Bay of Plenty to make the most of the resort's current Family Escape promotion.

Likewise, the National Aquarium has seen a significant 57.5 per cent increase on the same time last year, while MTG Hawke's Bay, Par 2 MiniGolf and Napier i-SITE have all seen an upsurge in holidaying families during last week.

Central Hawke's Bay's Settlers Museum has also recorded an increase in people coming through the doors due to school holidays. This despite Covid-19 preventing the museum from being able to prepare and showcase a school holiday exhibition as it typically would.

As with MTG Hawke's Bay and the aquarium, the Settlers Museum's interactive activities are proving very popular with children.

Meanwhile, Havelock North's Arataki Honey Visitor Centre has so far seen a 7 per cent increase in foot traffic when compared to the same holidays last year. Here too, the centre's activities are proving very popular, with candle-making and honey wrap-making tutorials on offer.

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In fact, school holidays are putting an extra 50 per cent or more through the tills at Arataki Honey when compared to the weeks leading up to the holiday period.

At a time when the effects of Covid-19 are still felt by our visitor economy, the school holidays provide much-needed foot traffic across the region.

They are a well-timed window of opportunity for many operators, and hopefully the impact travels even further so that when the kids go to bed after a busy day on Baycation, their parents sit down to enjoy a lovely glass of Hawke's Bay wine.

- Hamish Saxton is the chief executive of Hawke's Bay Tourism