GOLOCAL

From the green hills of Hobbiton, to the mesmerising lights of the Waitomo glow worm caves, the Waikato is slowly reopening its many jewels for New Zealanders to explore after six weeks in lockdown.

A relaxing kayak through some of the Waikato's lakes and streams, or perhaps the daredevil speeds of go-karting at Hampton Downs — the Waikato has more to offer than most Kiwis realise, says Hamilton and Waikato Tourism CEO Jason Dawson.

"It is incredibly exciting to see some of our operators being able to reopen their doors and welcome visitors back," Dawson said.

"A lot of our operators are starting to lead the economic recovery for the region by opening up their attractions once again."

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Dawson said that many attractions opened on the first weekend at alert level 2, and despite lower than usual numbers, he was optimistic that Kiwis were getting out to support and go local.

"We have seen Kiwis embrace the hospitality scene reopening, supporting local takeaways and cafes and, if we can get that same support for our local tourism, then I think we will be okay. This is the time to travel locally."

Last week the Government announced support for tourism in the 2020 Budget, with Dawson saying it was a good start in keeping some of New Zealand's most unique assets open for business.

"The extension to the wage subsidy will be a great help to the tourism sector, and the Government had been clear that more support is coming in the next few weeks."

The Prime Minister this week announced $7.6 million for the Te Puia tourism centre and the Māori arts and crafts training centre in Rotorua to safeguard its future, which Dawson said was an example of more funding being provided in detail to the sector.

"We still have more information to come from the strategic asset protection programme.

The Government has said just register at the moment and we will get back to you, but we saw that, with Rotorua, the $7.6 million for Te Puia which I think is great and hopefully it is a bit of a taster of things to come as it is unique to New Zealand, and if we were to look at the Waikato places like Waitomo that are unique to us."

Experience the home of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings with Hobbiton reopening at the end of May. Photo / Supplied
Experience the home of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings with Hobbiton reopening at the end of May. Photo / Supplied

Dawson said he has heard comments about attractions seemingly pricing Kiwis out of going, but said the charge is the cost needed to keep operating.

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My response has been around value and the world-class quality of the experience or product our tourism operators deliver. Tourism is a people-based business — international travellers have long been drawn to our shores by the landscapes, but the Number one thing they rate when they depart is our people.

"People are prepared to spend $450 to fly a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, but they are not prepared to do the same over our Southern Alps in Queenstown, but that is a small amount of the market because most Kiwis are willing to pay to help the local economy.

"We have worked hard as a sector to pay at least the living wage to ensure we can attract, train and develop our people. It's important we maintain the focus on people which make up the bulk of our operators' overhead costs. Add on top of that compliance costs, resource consents, concessions, landing fees (if applicable), tax and health and safety, and it doesn't leave a lot of wriggle room to reduce costs. Cutting costs can also reduce the quality of the experience and also risk the safety of our customers and staff."