Police, boarded-up shops and a city not as sharp as it once was. These are the things Christopher Luxon noticed as he walked Rotorua's streets yesterday.
The National Party leader spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post during his visit.
Speaking from the centre of town, Luxon said while he loved Rotorua, it wasn't quite "on point".
He said visible crime and emergency housing were both challenges the tourism sector faced to prepare the city for visitors.
The last time he was in Rotorua was in pre-Covid times, and he said the reputation and brand awareness of Rotorua and New Zealand was slipping and "off the radar".
"We've been slow to open up to the world."
The labour shortage heightened the risk of a "slipping" service level, he said, and a lack of working backpackers contributed to this.
"If Rotorua gets a bad name for tourists, and that can happen immediately, it's really damaging for the rest of New Zealand too."
He said he spoke to business owners and the tourism sector to "get a feel for getting to restore Rotorua".
He said National wanted to extend the age range of the Working Holiday Visa, and make it "very attractive", so businesses like cafes and hotels could tap into that pool of workers.
"Every single sector in this country is short of workers ... we need to attract the best in the world to come in."
There was a global war for talent, he said. While other countries like Canada and Australia made assertive pitches to potential immigrants, the perception was New Zealand was closed for business.
His strategy for revitalising tourism was to first get essential workers into the country and then market it to build demand.
Then, each city needed to work to build its own image - including Rotorua, he said.
"I'll put it back on Rotorua. Rotorua needs to get sorted because fundamentally at the moment it would not be a great experience for visitors when they walk down and see the level of risk around crime, motel capacity isn't there to handle the visitors."
Visitors spending thousands of dollars a day expected good quality and good service, he said.
The emergency housing situation in the city was impacting crime and tourism, he said.
Houses needed to be built, and consent processes sped up.
"There is no way a tourist will want to be in a motel that is emergency and transitional housing. It's one or the other."
Referring to the Rotorua District Council Representation Arrangements Bill, he said he agreed with the attorney general's stance it could not be justified and discriminated against general roll voters.
"It's totally outrageous, we have equal suffrage in this country."
Speaking on the recent reappointment of the Tauranga City Council commissioners, he said they were initially needed.
"At the time it was a pretty dysfunctional council and something needed to change."
He did not feel the same now, however, and said the Government needed to "step out" now and let local democracy resume.
He did not think they should have been reappointed.
As for the upcoming Tauranga byelection, he said concerns about the cost of living, infrastructure and law and order were forefront. The candidate will be announced on Sunday.
While not until next year, he said there was a mood for change that would result in a positive outcome for the party in the general election.
The party would introduce a dedicated mental health minister if elected. This would be the party's very first spokesman for mental health, Matt Doocey.
Luxon also visited Kilwell and spoke to the Rotorua Business Chamber.