To kick off our Whanganui 2050 series, Mike Tweed asks what the future of tourism is for the district.
Becoming "another Queenstown" is something Top Ten Holiday Park owner Jenny Kay says would be detrimental to Whanganui - and that's a sentiment shared by all.
"Obviously from a business point of view we would want to see visitor numbers increase, but at the same time, I've spoken to other operators that want to keep Whanganui from going 'Queenstown crazy', which is a valid point of view," Kay said.
"There's too much of an actual community here for that to happen I think, and it's important that we maintain our identity."
At the moment 75 per cent of Top Ten's visitors are domestic travellers, mainly because Whanganui isn't on the "international tourist map".
Take it Easy Tours owner Jason Granville said "the more the merrier" when asked about tourist numbers in Whanganui over the next three decades.
"I don't think overcrowding would be much of an issue, and the more people that get to see how great this little place the better," Granville said.
"If Whanganui was pumping in the future then so would the local economy."
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Increased regional dispersal would help increase Whanganui tourist numbers in the future, Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said.
"You have tourists that come into Auckland and they might go to Waitangi and the kauri forests up north, but they're more likely to go to places like Rotorua and the Waitomo caves, maybe Taupo, then they're trying to get to the south of the South Island as soon as they can.
"The key is to try to extend the time that tourists from overseas are staying and get a 'b route' or 'route 2' down the country.
"I'm really glad that Covid has allowed people to come out to the regions and see us, and I hope that will continue long term.
"Places like Whanganui will benefit greatly from Kiwis talking about us to their friends, and those preconceptions from 20 or 30 years ago will be gone."
Whanganui would never be an "adrenaline town", and shouldn't seek to be, McDouall said.
"I've said since 2016 that the river is what we have, whether that's canoeing, cycling, or a genuine engagement with tangata whenua and Māoritanga."
McDouall said he would like to see more expeditionary cycle routes throughout the region in years to come, as well as an increase in the use of campervans.
"People will be getting on their cycles much more, especially with electric bikes, and there could be a circuit from Ruapehu, down to us, then up the Turakina Valley Rd and over to the Manawatu and places like Kimbolton.
"I've supported campervans because there's science behind inbound tourists staying longer if they don't have to stay in motels or hotels."
'Do it on our own terms'
Annette Main, former Whanganui mayor and current chair of Whanganui District Council Holdings Limited, said the city "really needed to understand" what attracted visitors to the region.
"By  I hope we would have that firmly in place, and once we know what people are looking for then we can tailor our marketing to the kind of visitors we believe will enjoy what we have to offer."
Main, like McDouall, wanted to see more cycleways built in the region.
"I would like to see the river road have a separate cycleway, instead of sharing that road with vehicles.
"It may mean taking the cycleway down the same route, but quite separate to the road, giving cyclists the chance to engage with the community and experience their way of life.
"In a couple of decades time I would hope that we had that range and were able to deal with increased numbers of people and events."
Whanganui was always happy to share what it had with others, Main said, but the city should "do things on our own terms".
"You don't want to change things too much, but more visitors to town inevitably means that there's more for us to do, there's more money coming, and sure, we share the benefits of that."
The impact of climate change
Whanganui District councillor Alan Taylor said it was "fairly likely" the Whanganui River would flood more often in the future, and that in turn would impact access to the city and surrounding areas.
"I can't overemphasise developing resilience within our infrastructure, our buildings and our tourism enterprises so that they can withstand, as far as affordably possible, severe weather events," Taylor said.
"It is incumbent upon us to continually appraise tourism opportunities that could withstand climate change and even benefit from it.
"Being warmer by a couple of degrees in the summer, but not drier, could benefit our tourism industry as we become, relative to a lot of other parts of NZ, a more climatically attractive place to visit short term and longer term."
The Whanganui region would see changes in its natural attractions as a result of climate change, Taylor said.
"You look at tourist brochures, and not one photo in there has been taken on a rainy, shitty, day.
"Tourist operators don't need to panic in the future, but they do need to plan for short-term interruptions along the way."
Taylor said that any tourists visiting Whanganui "become part of us while they're here" and it was up to Whanganui to promote environmentally responsible behaviour in the future.
"I expect to see less fossil fuel based recreation, but this is sensitive as we must try to balance people's expectations for leisure time.
"Why not establish a real point of difference by encouraging the inclusion of electric bike races at Cemetery Circuit, or electric car races at Languard Bluff?
"Over time, motor racing will go electric, they're already doing it in Formula E, and they're exciting races.
"They go just as fast, just without the noise and pollution."
Whanganui Māori Regional Tourism board member Soraya Peke-Mason said there were "no boundaries" when it came to tourism in the area in the future.
"We create those boundaries by becoming a little bit too parochial, or maybe a bit too precious, but we've got to overcome that because they become barriers," Peke-Mason said.
"We've had discussions about regional market packaging for instance, so when a person flies into Palmerston North they can meander through the Rangitikei, head towards Whanganui and experience our beautiful awa, and go up the awa towards Ruapehu.
"Those three key districts have unique offerings, some of which are untapped, and authenticity and telling our stories is so important.
"What sets us apart from the rest of the world is our Māori culture, and, in my opinion, that hasn't been promoted enough."
Peke-Mason said numbers needed to be controlled along the Whanganui River in the future, and the river itself should aways be protected.
"In 2050 we want to be attracting people that will immerse themselves in our culture, and the balance between the natural environment of our awa and economic development must be maintained."
'Make it authentic'
Sam Mordey, who operates Wairua Heritage River Cruises in the Whanganui River, said any future of tourism in the area shouldn't involve "making a market for product".
"People are wanting an authentic experience," Mordey said.
"We need to re-embrace domestic tourism and remember our value, because what we do here has an importance to it.
"When people come on my boat they're my guests, and we want to make them feel like they've been invited in.
"That will spur them to come back again and again, and those are the types of people that Whanganui would benefit from.
"One side of tourism is the tour bus, and you have to tick off x, y, and z and take an instagram picture with a sheep, but, in my opinion, that's not authentic."
Mordey said he wanted to see Whanganui River trips and stays increase in the future.
"We're looking 30 years into the future here, but if we look 100 years in the past, 25,000 international visitors moved up and down the river each year.
"I don't think all of the operators in the region combined would see those numbers nowadays, so, in 50 years time, I would like to see three or four of these tunnel hull boats down here.
"They're very versatile, and they could do a lot of different trips, and they can handle a coach-load of people if needed."
Where's the nightlife?
Whanganui's Alex McKenzie recently left the city to live in Nelson, and he said one thing that would encourage younger people to visit would be a bigger range of "nightlife".
"I'm not sure how economically possible this is, but I've always thought a stretch of bars, cafes and restaurants along the Whanganui River, starting at the town bridge, would be a pretty amazing thing," McKenzie said.
"They'd all open out on to the river and visitors could walk from one to the next.
"I think that could be really vibrant, and also a chance for people from out of town to experience the amazing live music that's here in Whanganui, and the art scene as well.
"There's definitely more to our nightlife than just sitting in a dark room getting pissed."
Strategic lead for visitor industries at Whanganui and Partners, Paul Chaplow, said domestic tourism would always be a "strong suit" for Whanganui.
"Our city centre will continue to grow as a destination through the town centre regeneration, the development of the arts and the Sarjeant Gallery and the preservation and upgrading of our heritage buildings," Chaplow said.
"A number of projects currently under way, such as the Sarjeant Gallery redevelopment and a visitor attraction around Te Awa Tupua, have the potential to bring more visitors who would then get to see, experience and understand the broader attractions of Whanganui.
"We are currently working through a scoping study for an eco-tourism visitor hub that would be focused around Te Awa Tupua and the world leading legislation for the Whanganui River."
Chaplow said he would like to see more of a focus on "high value visitors over volume" in 2050 and that all tourism businesses are aware of and uphold the values held in the Te Awa Tupua legislation around the Whanganui River.
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