Is Mike Bowie optimistic about Tūrangi's post-Covid-19 future? "Absolutely."

Mike has been Enterprise Great Lake Taupō's Tūrangi development lead since September and although he was originally tasked to progress three key economic development projects in the area, since March he's had to switch tack. Post-Covid-19 his emphasis has changed to supporting local businesses to get back up and running again.

"I took the job on because I do believe Tūrangi has a future, and that hasn't changed," says Mike.

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He says while local businesses have been in a honeymoon period since coming out of level 4 lockdown and Queen's Birthday weekend was flat out, he felt there would be a reality check coming this month.

"We're already sensing that there's going to be some redundancies so it's a case of really just working with all the business owners to establish what are the issues rather than wait for the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff scenario. It's about, if we can help in any way let's do it sooner rather than later."

Mike says the two areas where he sees potential for problems in the upcoming months are in accommodation and adventure tourism. Those businesses often rely on part-time or casual workers, whose jobs will be affected.

"In this area there's a lot of part-timers and they are the first to feel the pinch. You talk to some of the operators, they've got a pretty lean operation now, both accommodation providers and adventure providers, and it will rise and flow as required.

"Unemployment here is higher than the national average so if it goes to 10 per cent nationally it could go higher here like 12 to 14 per cent."

However Mike believes a transtasman bubble could be a big help as Australians are the area's single biggest overseas tourist group, and the Taupō district generally is lucky that it has a strong domestic tourism base.

"The big plus for us is that we are within two or three hours drive of two million-plus people. You listen to the webinars and surveys and people are happy to travel by car within islands, that's the big advantage for us.

"The priority is getting what we have up and running and from that point going to the next level."

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Pre-Covid-19 Mike's three key projects were to progress the rollout of ultra-fast broadband, work on progressing Tūrangi's position as the gateway to the Tongariro National Park, and attract investment and business to Tūrangi. But for now he is concentrating on helping restart the local economy - "because the last thing we want to see is existing businesses say it's all too tough".

Part of the economic development strategy for Tūrangi is to position it as the gateway to the Tongariro National Park. Photo / Graham Jordan
Part of the economic development strategy for Tūrangi is to position it as the gateway to the Tongariro National Park. Photo / Graham Jordan

As part of that the Love This Place campaign was hugely embraced locally, Mike says. The Tūrangi-Tongariro area also has a strong community spirit and businesses are pitching in to help each other. For example, Tūrangi New World owner Danny Picket offered vouchers to other local businesses to thank people for shopping at New World.

Mike says one of the priorities for when the Tūrangi area finds its new normal is to look at attracting investment and businesses. He says one of the biggest issues is the lack of ultra-fast broadband, scheduled for completion in May 2022, despite Mike pushing Chorus to bring it forward.

Mike's work is being guided by the Tūrangi Economic Development Strategy (TEDS), completed in September 2017 which Mike says has a lot of good stuff in it - although now it's a case of putting it into action.

"Tūrangi is probably the most over-assessed town in the country, it constantly has another report written on it so let's draw up a plan and if it's TEDS, that's fine.

Mike says there are many ideas for Tūrangi but in terms of visitors, it's important to give people a reason to base themselves in the southern Lake Taupō area. From there they could ski, tramp, fish, bike, bird watch - it's a little known fact that the area is a hub for twitchers, who can see whio on the Tongariro and dab chicks at Tokaanu.

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"There are great opportunities."

A recent NZ Herald article said Tūrangi had much potential but nobody quite seemed to know how to go about harnessing it.

"There are a thousand towns like this one, all over the country, mostly with the bones to succeed if only someone can figure out how," journalist Simon Wilson wrote.

Mike says for the area's potential to be truly grasped, it must be a collective effort.

"Until you get everybody on the same page: business owners, iwi, everyone who has a vested interest in Tūrangi, until you have that common group, it's never going to succeed.

"I think there's really good community spirit in Tūrangi and we see that in these times. We can't do it on our own."

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