LAST weekend's 2017 Air Tattoo at Ohakea Air Force Base was both a spectacular event and an outstanding success.

The RNZAF and a number of international militaries put on amazing air and ground displays, while the Black Falcons aerobatics team performed publicly for the first time and wowed the crowds.

Australia, the United States, Singapore, Japan and Canada were all represented, the US's two F-16 Fighting Falcons putting on a brilliant display.

The event was notable for its exceptional traffic management. Thousands of people came to Sanson to experience the impressive depth and capability of New Zealand's own defence force, while at the same time enjoying some of the best of what our allies have to offer.


It was an amazing event and many of those in attendance had travelled from throughout the lower North Island -- and, indeed, from across New Zealand -- to be there.

It's great that tourism spending in Whanganui and Manawatu is continuing to rise and our region is certainly benefiting from the increase in visitor numbers and tourist dollars. We have seen an increase in spending for the year to January 2017 of 8 per cent in the region, which equates to a total of $931 million.

Domestic and international tourism bring welcome employment opportunities and economic prosperity. It's also a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our region.

We are becoming a more and more highly desirable location to visit. There are so many attractions and activities to discover and enjoy here. We're also very good at organising and hosting annual and special one-off events like Whanganui's Artists' Open Studios, the Turakina Highland Games and rural sports days, to name just a few. I am delighted that the Rangitikei and Whanganui have such variety and diversity.

Tourism has always been an important part of our regional economy -- and it's been identified as a key growth area in the Accelerate25 regional growth plan. It's fantastic to see this level of growth. It shows we have a solid base to build on.

There were 3.2 million visitors to New Zealand last year. That number is projected to grow to more than 4.5 million by 2022. Across New Zealand, tourists spent more than $26 billion in the year to January.

We are very pleased with these numbers. We are also conscious of a need to shift our focus towards growing tourism outside of the summer peak, as well as working to attract more tourists into regional New Zealand.

Domestic and international tourism creates immense value for working New Zealanders, with tourism employing over 180,000 people in 2016. Communities around New Zealand continue to benefit from increasing tourism and higher spending. This is great news for New Zealand and for New Zealanders.

As international visitor spending is booming, it is vital we continue to invest in order to sustain and support this growth. For example, the Government is investing in infrastructure across the board to support visitors, including the ultra-fast broadband programme. At the same time, through the 2015-2018 National Land Transport Programme, total government investment in improving Manawatu-Whanganui roads is forecast to be $444 million.

As a country we offer a world-class experience for our visitors -- and it's clear that more people are choosing to come here to experience a taste of the real New Zealand.