Aucklanders are flocking across to Waiheke Island today armed with $80,000 in spending money, yet small businesses say there is still a long road back to recovery.

It comes after Waiheke business owners earlier pooled together to deliver a wildly successful On The House tourism promotion, with promises of more special deals in the coming months.

In the campaign, the owners of 80 Waiheke Island holiday rentals promised guests booking stays for this June 19-21 weekend they would get their money back in Waiheke dollars - credit that could be spent at local businesses.

The holiday rental 16 Waikare is among more than 80 on Waiheke Island that sold out within days of the On The House promotion being launched. Photo / Supplied
The holiday rental 16 Waikare is among more than 80 on Waiheke Island that sold out within days of the On The House promotion being launched. Photo / Supplied

This could be used to pay for wine tasting, shopping or zip lining adventures.

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Other possibilities included renting a car or e-bike, playing a round of golf, booking a scenic flight or dining at a host of Waiheke's award-winning restaurants.

Guests paying $5700 for two nights at the exclusive Island Retreat rental, for instance, would get $5100 back in Waiheke dollars to spend elsewhere on the island after booking and cleaning fees were deducted.

It led to all 80 holiday rentals selling out within hours of going live on the site. Organisers were also swamped with 3500 email inquiries and 25,000 visits to their new website.

As a result, 340 guests were today arriving on the island with $80,663 in Waiheke dollars to spend at local businesses.

"Safe to say we have been overwhelmed with the response," one of the organising team Andrew Glenn said.

Waiheke Island tourism companies hope for an economic ray of sunshine this weekend courtesy of a innovative promotion by locals. Photo / 123rf
Waiheke Island tourism companies hope for an economic ray of sunshine this weekend courtesy of a innovative promotion by locals. Photo / 123rf

With tourism dealt a savage economic blow by the Covid-19 pandemic, the team was now planning more deals and potentially looking to export the campaign model to other tourist hot spots across the country.

Before the On The House Promotion, one Waiheke Island property management business reported June accommodation bookings had been down 72 per cent compared to last year.

Another wine tour operator watched bookings drop from 490 people last May to only four last month.

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However, the On The House promotion had given an immediate boost to Auckland Seaplanes, which offers scenic flights above Auckland and Waiheke Island.

Chief executive Chris Sattler praised the On The House campaign, saying his seaplanes were about 70-80 per cent booked this weekend.

Some guests had chosen to book his planes to take them over to Waiheke rather than using the ferry.

one roof

He was also cautiously optimistic looking ahead. He had partnered with another company to move a larger, seven-seater plane to Waiheke from this weekend onwards in anticipation of greater demand for scenic flights going ahead.

However, his team faced many challenges.

After shutting down completely during New Zealand's Covid-19 level 4 lockdown, while still paying expensive overheads, such as for plane maintenance and insurance, Sattler also has to find a way to replace his lost business from the border closures.

He said international visitors typically accounted for 70 per cent of business.

Similarly, Mark Seaviol, owner of Waiheke Bike Shop, said had also been battling to cope with the loss of foreign tourists.

He said international tourists often had bigger spending budgets and came to Waiheke without transport and so were more inclined to hire an e-bike to sightsee and get around.

Seaviol praised the On The House campaign but said so far it had not given his business a big lift in bookings.

The view from the kitchen of You've Got It Maid's 16 Waikare holiday rental on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
The view from the kitchen of You've Got It Maid's 16 Waikare holiday rental on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

He earlier reduced his fleet of e-bikes in response to the slowdown after lockdown, and suspected most of the guests would spend their Waiheke dollars on food and wine.

"It'll be interesting to see how much money is left over at the end for us," he said.

Glenn from the On The House campaign, meanwhile, said the team was planning a second Waiheke promotion in July or August.

They were first looking at how they could make the promotion run longer and how it could also bring economic benefit to the holiday rental owners.

"[We are also] looking at how we can bring the concept to other regions in New Zealand that have been adversely affected by the tourism downturn," Glenn said.

"On The House is great because it supports local, is community-minded and 'backs your backyard'. It's a circular economic model that's a win-win for all."