With the festive season just seven weeks away, Whanganui's retail, tourism and hospitality sectors are gearing up for the busy season - this time in a Covid-19 world. Mike Tweed reports.
Matt Nowak doesn't expect to see international tourists at his College House Backpackers for the foreseeable future.
"Basically, you can consider this upcoming season international tourist-free," Nowak said.
On the flip side, domestic travellers had been staying in the city for longer periods of time, which "compensated to a certain extent".
"That is happening more and more, and I've heard that we're not too far away from a population of 50,000."
Despite the lack of overseas visitors, Nowak said he was feeling positive about the lead-up until Christmas.
"Our city is attractive, it's just that most people don't know about it yet. Overall, the outlook for Christmas is good."
Paul Chaplow, strategic lead for visitor industries at Whanganui and Partners, said the 2020 retail spend had been outperforming 2019, even taking Covid-19 into account.
"There's been no sign of economic activity slowing down and we expect the weeks leading up to Christmas will see spending increase even further," Chaplow said.
"Whanganui shoppers have done a great job supporting our local retailers this year, and we hope everyone keeps shopping local over Christmas.
Chaplow said September data had showed an 18 per cent increase in visitor numbers compared to the same month last year.
"Kiwis are definitely taking advantage of domestic travel right now and Whanganui is benefitting.
"We usually see an increase in international visitors over the summer, so there will be more ground to make up over Christmas, but post-lockdown trends give us reason to think domestic visitation will make up for those numbers."
Rochelle Handley, from Paige's Book Gallery, said had a lot of new people had come into the store since the Covid-19 lockdown.
"I ask them if they're new to town and they say 'oh, we've always lived here but just bought our books online, now we want to support local'," Handley said.
"That's been a biggie, and that's another thing we're grateful for. People are recognising how amazing Whanganui is, and how it punches above its weight.
"We talk to all our holiday makers, out of towners, and newcomers, and it feels like there's a real buzz around Whanganui."
Handley said she felt that feel that provincial centres had never been reliant on tourism, which had "helped us to keep moving forward".
"Perhaps people have that disposable income in their pocket because they're not going overseas. The amount of people that are travelling around and visiting their own backyard is fabulous."
Paige's usually started their Christmas season on December 1, Handley said, but because books were coming by ship as opposed to air, ordering had to begin earlier.
"We've been so, so, gratefully busy, and the love from the community has been amazing."
Josephine Haworth, of Whanganui River Adventures, said they would have to "wait and see what happens" when it came to domestic tourist numbers.
"It's hard to tell what going to happen when we start moving into December and our busy season," Haworth said.
"At the moment we're happy with what we're getting, because we've never been big on the domestic market. I think people are appreciating what they have [in New Zealand].
Haworth said it was the first time in the area for a lot of their New Zealand customers.
"If people have had a really good experience with you then they'll tell others, and hopefully we'll see people having return trips," she said.
"You don't know what you're going to get from day to day. When you talk to operators in big towns they say their numbers are right down. It doesn't matter where you are.
"I think people just have to be realistic and take what you're given, especially at the moment."
Lisa Ledgerwood and her daughter Ashley Ledgerwood who run the Gifts From Within shop and spiritual centre on Victoria Ave are hoping business will begin to pick up after an unusually slow October.
"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to that," Lisa Ledgerwood said.
"You don't expect this before Christmas. Because we're a young business we're a little concerned and we can't carry ourselves on nothing with all the same overheads.
"Things have never been so uncertain, and we've never been hit with something like this [Covid-19] before.
"We're lucky that we have the two places, not just the one. Business does go up and down, and you've got to make sure that you can ride it out."
Ashley Ledgerwood said other retailers on Victoria Ave that she had spoken with had also been hit with a slower October than they had predicted.
"Being an online business, over Covid-19 we just took off. That's why we decided to come [to Victoria Ave], and that carried on for a while. Then October came and it completely dropped off.
"Normally around this time it's a real struggle to find a carpark here in town. There are plenty out there at the moment, which isn't normal."